Part 3 out of 10
"They're thermometric sounding lines that report water temperatures
in the different strata."
"And these other instruments, whose functions I can't even guess?"
"Here, professor, I need to give you some background information,"
Captain Nemo said. "So kindly hear me out."
He fell silent for some moments, then he said:
"There's a powerful, obedient, swift, and effortless force that can
be bent to any use and which reigns supreme aboard my vessel.
It does everything. It lights me, it warms me, it's the soul
of my mechanical equipment. This force is electricity."
"Electricity!" I exclaimed in some surprise.
"But, captain, you have a tremendous speed of movement that doesn't
square with the strength of electricity. Until now, its dynamic
potential has remained quite limited, capable of producing only small
amounts of power!"
"Professor," Captain Nemo replied, "my electricity isn't
the run-of-the-mill variety, and with your permission, I'll leave
it at that."
"I won't insist, sir, and I'll rest content with simply being
flabbergasted at your results. I would ask one question, however,
which you needn't answer if it's indiscreet. The electric cells you
use to generate this marvelous force must be depleted very quickly.
Their zinc component, for example: how do you replace it,
since you no longer stay in contact with the shore?"
"That question deserves an answer," Captain Nemo replied.
"First off, I'll mention that at the bottom of the sea there exist veins
of zinc, iron, silver, and gold whose mining would quite certainly
be feasible. But I've tapped none of these land-based metals,
and I wanted to make demands only on the sea itself for the sources
of my electricity."
"The sea itself?"
"Yes, professor, and there was no shortage of such sources.
In fact, by establishing a circuit between two wires immersed
to different depths, I'd be able to obtain electricity through
the diverging temperatures they experience; but I preferred to use
a more practical procedure."
"And that is?"
"You're familiar with the composition of salt water. In 1,000 grams
one finds 96.5% water and about 2.66% sodium chloride; then small
quantities of magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium bromide,
sulfate of magnesia, calcium sulfate, and calcium carbonate.
Hence you observe that sodium chloride is encountered there in
significant proportions. Now then, it's this sodium that I extract
from salt water and with which I compose my electric cells."
"Yes, sir. Mixed with mercury, it forms an amalgam that takes
the place of zinc in Bunsen cells. The mercury is never depleted.
Only the sodium is consumed, and the sea itself gives me that.
Beyond this, I'll mention that sodium batteries have been found
to generate the greater energy, and their electro-motor strength
is twice that of zinc batteries."
"Captain, I fully understand the excellence of sodium under the conditions
in which you're placed. The sea contains it. Fine. But it still has
to be produced, in short, extracted. And how do you accomplish this?
Obviously your batteries could do the extracting; but if I'm
not mistaken, the consumption of sodium needed by your electric
equipment would be greater than the quantity you'd extract.
It would come about, then, that in the process of producing your sodium,
you'd use up more than you'd make!"
"Accordingly, professor, I don't extract it with batteries;
quite simply, I utilize the heat of coal from the earth."
"From the earth?" I said, my voice going up on the word.
"We'll say coal from the seafloor, if you prefer," Captain Nemo replied.
"And you can mine these veins of underwater coal?"
"You'll watch me work them, Professor Aronnax. I ask only a little
patience of you, since you'll have ample time to be patient.
Just remember one thing: I owe everything to the ocean;
it generates electricity, and electricity gives the Nautilus heat,
light, motion, and, in a word, life itself."
"But not the air you breathe?"
"Oh, I could produce the air needed on board, but it would be pointless,
since I can rise to the surface of the sea whenever I like.
However, even though electricity doesn't supply me with breathable air,
it at least operates the powerful pumps that store it under pressure
in special tanks; which, if need be, allows me to extend my stay
in the lower strata for as long as I want."
"Captain," I replied, "I'll rest content with marveling.
You've obviously found what all mankind will surely find one day,
the true dynamic power of electricity."
"I'm not so certain they'll find it," Captain Nemo replied icily.
"But be that as it may, you're already familiar with the first use I've
found for this valuable force. It lights us, and with a uniformity
and continuity not even possessed by sunlight. Now, look at that clock:
it's electric, it runs with an accuracy rivaling the finest chronometers.
I've had it divided into twenty-four hours like Italian clocks,
since neither day nor night, sun nor moon, exist for me, but only
this artificial light that I import into the depths of the seas!
See, right now it's ten o'clock in the morning."
"Another use for electricity: that dial hanging before our eyes
indicates how fast the Nautilus is going. An electric wire puts
it in contact with the patent log; this needle shows me the actual
speed of my submersible. And . . . hold on . . . just now we're
proceeding at the moderate pace of fifteen miles per hour."
"It's marvelous," I replied, "and I truly see, captain, how right
you are to use this force; it's sure to take the place of wind,
water, and steam."
"But that's not all, Professor Aronnax," Captain Nemo said, standing up.
"And if you'd care to follow me, we'll inspect the Nautilus's stern."
In essence, I was already familiar with the whole forward part
of this underwater boat, and here are its exact subdivisions going
from amidships to its spur: the dining room, 5 meters long and
separated from the library by a watertight bulkhead, in other words,
it couldn't be penetrated by the sea; the library, 5 meters long;
the main lounge, 10 meters long, separated from the captain's
stateroom by a second watertight bulkhead; the aforesaid stateroom,
5 meters long; mine, 2.5 meters long; and finally, air tanks 7.5 meters
long and extending to the stempost. Total: a length of 35 meters.
Doors were cut into the watertight bulkheads and were shut hermetically
by means of india-rubber seals, which insured complete safety aboard
the Nautilus in the event of a leak in any one section.
I followed Captain Nemo down gangways located for easy transit,
and I arrived amidships. There I found a sort of shaft heading upward
between two watertight bulkheads. An iron ladder, clamped to the wall,
led to the shaft's upper end. I asked the captain what this
ladder was for.
"It goes to the skiff," he replied.
"What! You have a skiff?" I replied in some astonishment.
"Surely. An excellent longboat, light and unsinkable, which is used
for excursions and fishing trips."
"But when you want to set out, don't you have to return to the surface
of the sea?"
"By no means. The skiff is attached to the topside of the Nautilus's hull
and is set in a cavity expressly designed to receive it. It's completely
decked over, absolutely watertight, and held solidly in place by bolts.
This ladder leads to a manhole cut into the Nautilus's hull and
corresponding to a comparable hole cut into the side of the skiff.
I insert myself through this double opening into the longboat.
My crew close up the hole belonging to the Nautilus; I close up
the one belonging to the skiff, simply by screwing it into place.
I undo the bolts holding the skiff to the submersible, and the
longboat rises with prodigious speed to the surface of the sea.
I then open the deck paneling, carefully closed until that point;
I up mast and hoist sail--or I take out my oars--and I go for a spin."
"But how do you return to the ship?"
"I don't, Professor Aronnax; the Nautilus returns to me."
"At your command?"
"At my command. An electric wire connects me to the ship.
I fire off a telegram, and that's that."
"Right," I said, tipsy from all these wonders, "nothing to it!"
After passing the well of the companionway that led to the platform,
I saw a cabin 2 meters long in which Conseil and Ned Land,
enraptured with their meal, were busy devouring it to the last crumb.
Then a door opened into the galley, 3 meters long and located
between the vessel's huge storage lockers.
There, even more powerful and obedient than gas, electricity did
most of the cooking. Arriving under the stoves, wires transmitted
to platinum griddles a heat that was distributed and sustained
with perfect consistency. It also heated a distilling
mechanism that, via evaporation, supplied excellent drinking water.
Next to this galley was a bathroom, conveniently laid out,
with faucets supplying hot or cold water at will.
After the galley came the crew's quarters, 5 meters long.
But the door was closed and I couldn't see its accommodations, which might
have told me the number of men it took to operate the Nautilus.
At the far end stood a fourth watertight bulkhead, separating the crew's
quarters from the engine room. A door opened, and I stood in the
compartment where Captain Nemo, indisputably a world-class engineer,
had set up his locomotive equipment.
Brightly lit, the engine room measured at least 20 meters in length.
It was divided, by function, into two parts: the first contained
the cells for generating electricity, the second that mechanism
transmitting movement to the propeller.
Right off, I detected an odor permeating the compartment that was
sui generis.* Captain Nemo noticed the negative impression it
made on me.
*Latin: "in a class by itself." Ed.
"That," he told me, "is a gaseous discharge caused by our use of sodium,
but it's only a mild inconvenience. In any event, every morning
we sanitize the ship by ventilating it in the open air."
Meanwhile I examined the Nautilus's engine with a fascination
easy to imagine.
"You observe," Captain Nemo told me, "that I use Bunsen cells,
not Ruhmkorff cells. The latter would be ineffectual. One uses fewer
Bunsen cells, but they're big and strong, and experience has proven
their superiority. The electricity generated here makes its way to
the stern, where electromagnets of huge size activate a special system
of levers and gears that transmit movement to the propeller's shaft.
The latter has a diameter of 6 meters, a pitch of 7.5 meters,
and can do up to 120 revolutions per minute."
"And that gives you?"
"A speed of fifty miles per hour."
There lay a mystery, but I didn't insist on exploring it.
How could electricity work with such power? Where did this
nearly unlimited energy originate? Was it in the extraordinary
voltage obtained from some new kind of induction coil?
Could its transmission have been immeasurably increased by some
unknown system of levers?** This was the point I couldn't grasp.
**Author's Note: And sure enough, there's now talk of such a discovery,
in which a new set of levers generates considerable power.
Did its inventor meet up with Captain Nemo?
"Captain Nemo," I said, "I'll vouch for the results and not try
to explain them. I've seen the Nautilus at work out in front
of the Abraham Lincoln, and I know where I stand on its speed.
But it isn't enough just to move, we have to see where we're going!
We must be able to steer right or left, up or down!
How do you reach the lower depths, where you meet an increasing
resistance that's assessed in hundreds of atmospheres?
How do you rise back to the surface of the ocean?
Finally, how do you keep your ship at whatever level suits you?
Am I indiscreet in asking you all these things?"
"Not at all, professor," the captain answered me after a
slight hesitation, "since you'll never leave this underwater boat.
Come into the lounge. It's actually our work room, and there you'll
learn the full story about the Nautilus!"
A MOMENT LATER we were seated on a couch in the lounge, cigars between
our lips. The
captain placed before my eyes a working drawing that gave the ground plan,
cross section, and side view of the Nautilus. Then he began his
description as follows:
"Here, Professor Aronnax, are the different dimensions of this boat
now transporting you. It's a very long cylinder with conical ends.
It noticeably takes the shape of a cigar, a shape already
adopted in London for several projects of the same kind.
The length of this cylinder from end to end is exactly seventy meters,
and its maximum breadth of beam is eight meters. So it isn't
quite built on the ten-to-one ratio of your high-speed steamers;
but its lines are sufficiently long, and their tapering gradual enough,
so that the displaced water easily slips past and poses no obstacle
to the ship's movements.
"These two dimensions allow you to obtain, via a simple calculation,
the surface area and volume of the Nautilus. Its surface area
totals 1,011.45 square meters, its volume 1,507.2 cubic meters--
which is tantamount to saying that when it's completely submerged,
it displaces 1,500 cubic meters of water, or weighs 1,500 metric tons.
"In drawing up plans for a ship meant to navigate underwater,
I wanted it, when floating on the waves, to lie nine-tenths below
the surface and to emerge only one-tenth. Consequently, under these
conditions it needed to displace only nine-tenths of its volume,
hence 1,356.48 cubic meters; in other words, it was to weigh only
that same number of metric tons. So I was obliged not to exceed
this weight while building it to the aforesaid dimensions.
"The Nautilus is made up of two hulls, one inside the other;
between them, joining them together, are iron T-bars that give this ship
the utmost rigidity. In fact, thanks to this cellular arrangement,
it has the resistance of a stone block, as if it were completely solid.
Its plating can't give way; it's self-adhering and not dependent
on the tightness of its rivets; and due to the perfect union
of its materials, the solidarity of its construction allows it
to defy the most violent seas.
"The two hulls are manufactured from boilerplate steel, whose relative
density is 7.8 times that of water. The first hull has a thickness
of no less than five centimeters and weighs 394.96 metric tons.
My second hull, the outer cover, includes a keel fifty centimeters high
by twenty-five wide, which by itself weighs 62 metric tons; this hull,
the engine, the ballast, the various accessories and accommodations,
plus the bulkheads and interior braces, have a combined weight
of 961.52 metric tons, which when added to 394.96 metric tons,
gives us the desired total of 1,356.48 metric tons. Clear?"
"Clear," I replied.
"So," the captain went on, "when the Nautilus lies on the waves
under these conditions, one-tenth of it does emerge above water.
Now then, if I provide some ballast tanks equal in capacity
to that one-tenth, hence able to hold 150.72 metric tons, and if I
fill them with water, the boat then displaces 1,507.2 metric tons--
or it weighs that much--and it would be completely submerged.
That's what comes about, professor. These ballast tanks exist
within easy access in the lower reaches of the Nautilus. I open
some stopcocks, the tanks fill, the boat sinks, and it's exactly
flush with the surface of the water."
"Fine, captain, but now we come to a genuine difficulty. You're able
to lie flush with the surface of the ocean, that I understand.
But lower down, while diving beneath that surface, isn't your
submersible going to encounter a pressure, and consequently
undergo an upward thrust, that must be assessed at one atmosphere
per every thirty feet of water, hence at about one kilogram per
each square centimeter?"
"Then unless you fill up the whole Nautilus, I don't see how you
can force it down into the heart of these liquid masses."
"Professor," Captain Nemo replied, "static objects mustn't be
confused with dynamic ones, or we'll be open to serious error.
Comparatively little effort is spent in reaching the ocean's
lower regions, because all objects have a tendency to become 'sinkers.'
Follow my logic here."
"I'm all ears, captain."
"When I wanted to determine what increase in weight the Nautilus
needed to be given in order to submerge, I had only to take note
of the proportionate reduction in volume that salt water experiences
in deeper and deeper strata."
"That's obvious," I replied.
"Now then, if water isn't absolutely incompressible, at least
it compresses very little. In fact, according to the most
recent calculations, this reduction is only .0000436 per atmosphere,
or per every thirty feet of depth. For instance, to go 1,000
meters down, I must take into account the reduction in volume
that occurs under a pressure equivalent to that from a 1,000-meter
column of water, in other words, under a pressure of 100 atmospheres.
In this instance the reduction would be .00436. Consequently, I'd have
to increase my weight from 1,507.2 metric tons to 1,513.77. So
the added weight would only be 6.57 metric tons."
"That's all, Professor Aronnax, and the calculation is easy to check.
Now then, I have supplementary ballast tanks capable of shipping 100
metric tons of water. So I can descend to considerable depths.
When I want to rise again and lie flush with the surface, all I
have to do is expel that water; and if I desire that the Nautilus
emerge above the waves to one-tenth of its total capacity, I empty
all the ballast tanks completely."
This logic, backed up by figures, left me without a single objection.
"I accept your calculations, captain," I replied, "and I'd be ill-mannered
to dispute them, since your daily experience bears them out.
But at this juncture, I have a hunch that we're still left with
one real difficulty."
"What's that, sir?"
"When you're at a depth of 1,000 meters, the Nautilus's plating
bears a pressure of 100 atmospheres. If at this point you want
to empty the supplementary ballast tanks in order to lighten your
boat and rise to the surface, your pumps must overcome that pressure
of 100 atmospheres, which is 100 kilograms per each square centimeter.
This demands a strength--"
"That electricity alone can give me," Captain Nemo said swiftly.
"Sir, I repeat: the dynamic power of my engines is nearly infinite.
The Nautilus's pumps have prodigious strength, as you must
have noticed when their waterspouts swept like a torrent over
the Abraham Lincoln. Besides, I use my supplementary ballast
tanks only to reach an average depth of 1,500 to 2,000 meters,
and that with a view to conserving my machinery. Accordingly, when I
have a mind to visit the ocean depths two or three vertical leagues
beneath the surface, I use maneuvers that are more time-consuming
but no less infallible."
"What are they, captain?" I asked.
"Here I'm naturally led into telling you how the Nautilus is maneuvered."
"I can't wait to find out."
"In order to steer this boat to port or starboard, in short, to make
turns on a horizontal plane, I use an ordinary, wide-bladed rudder
that's fastened to the rear of the sternpost and worked by a wheel
and tackle. But I can also move the Nautilus upward and downward
on a vertical plane by the simple method of slanting its two fins,
which are attached to its sides at its center of flotation;
these fins are flexible, able to assume any position, and can be
operated from inside by means of powerful levers. If these fins
stay parallel with the boat, the latter moves horizontally.
If they slant, the Nautilus follows the angle of that slant and,
under its propeller's thrust, either sinks on a diagonal as steep
as it suits me, or rises on that diagonal. And similarly, if I want
to return more swiftly to the surface, I throw the propeller in gear,
and the water's pressure makes the Nautilus rise vertically, as an air
balloon inflated with hydrogen lifts swiftly into the skies."
"Bravo, captain!" I exclaimed. "But in the midst of the waters,
how can your helmsman follow the course you've given him?"
"My helmsman is stationed behind the windows of a pilothouse,
which protrudes from the topside of the Nautilus's hull and is fitted
with biconvex glass."
"Is glass capable of resisting such pressures?"
"Perfectly capable. Though fragile on impact, crystal can still
offer considerable resistance. In 1864, during experiments on
fishing by electric light in the middle of the North Sea, glass panes
less than seven millimeters thick were seen to resist a pressure
of sixteen atmospheres, all the while letting through strong,
heat-generating rays whose warmth was unevenly distributed.
Now then, I use glass windows measuring no less than twenty-one
centimeters at their centers; in other words, they've thirty
times the thickness."
"Fair enough, captain, but if we're going to see, we need light
to drive away the dark, and in the midst of the murky waters,
I wonder how your helmsman can--"
"Set astern of the pilothouse is a powerful electric reflector
whose rays light up the sea for a distance of half a mile."
"Oh, bravo! Bravo three times over, captain! That explains
the phosphorescent glow from this so-called narwhale that so puzzled
us scientists! Pertinent to this, I'll ask you if the Nautilus's
running afoul of the Scotia, which caused such a great uproar,
was the result of an accidental encounter?"
"Entirely accidental, sir. I was navigating two meters beneath
the surface of the water when the collision occurred. However, I could
see that it had no dire consequences."
"None, sir. But as for your encounter with the Abraham Lincoln . . . ?"
"Professor, that troubled me, because it's one of the best ships in the
gallant American navy, but they attacked me and I had to defend myself!
All the same, I was content simply to put the frigate in a condition
where it could do me no harm; it won't have any difficulty getting
repairs at the nearest port."
"Ah, commander," I exclaimed with conviction, "your Nautilus is truly
a marvelous boat!"
"Yes, professor," Captain Nemo replied with genuine excitement,
"and I love it as if it were my own flesh and blood! Aboard a
conventional ship, facing the ocean's perils, danger lurks everywhere;
on the surface of the sea, your chief sensation is the constant feeling
of an underlying chasm, as the Dutchman Jansen so aptly put it;
but below the waves aboard the Nautilus, your heart never fails you!
There are no structural deformities to worry about,
because the double hull of this boat has the rigidity of iron;
no rigging to be worn out by rolling and pitching on the waves;
no sails for the wind to carry off; no boilers for steam to burst open;
no fires to fear, because this submersible is made of sheet iron not wood;
no coal to run out of, since electricity is its mechanical force;
no collisions to fear, because it navigates the watery deep all by itself;
no storms to brave, because just a few meters beneath the waves,
it finds absolute tranquility! There, sir. There's the ideal ship!
And if it's true that the engineer has more confidence in a craft
than the builder, and the builder more than the captain himself,
you can understand the utter abandon with which I place my trust
in this Nautilus, since I'm its captain, builder, and engineer
all in one!"
Captain Nemo spoke with winning eloquence. The fire in his eyes
and the passion in his gestures transfigured him. Yes, he loved
his ship the same way a father loves his child!
But one question, perhaps indiscreet, naturally popped up, and I
couldn't resist asking it.
"You're an engineer, then, Captain Nemo?"
"Yes, professor," he answered me. "I studied in London, Paris,
and New York back in the days when I was a resident of
the earth's continents."
"But how were you able to build this wonderful Nautilus in secret?"
"Each part of it, Professor Aronnax, came from a different spot
on the globe and reached me at a cover address. Its keel was forged
by Creusot in France, its propeller shaft by Pen & Co. in London,
the sheet-iron plates for its hull by Laird's in Liverpool, its propeller
by Scott's in Glasgow. Its tanks were manufactured by Cail & Co.
in Paris, its engine by Krupp in Prussia, its spur by the Motala
workshops in Sweden, its precision instruments by Hart Bros.
in New York, etc.; and each of these suppliers received my
specifications under a different name."
"But," I went on, "once these parts were manufactured, didn't they
have to be mounted and adjusted?"
"Professor, I set up my workshops on a deserted islet in midocean.
There our Nautilus was completed by me and my workmen, in other words,
by my gallant companions whom I've molded and educated.
Then, when the operation was over, we burned every trace of our stay
on that islet, which if I could have, I'd have blown up."
"From all this, may I assume that such a boat costs a fortune?"
"An iron ship, Professor Aronnax, runs 1,125 francs per metric ton.
Now then, the Nautilus has a burden of 1,500 metric tons.
Consequently, it cost 1,687,000 francs, hence 2,000,000 francs
including its accommodations, and 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 with all
the collections and works of art it contains."
"One last question, Captain Nemo."
"You're rich, then?"
"Infinitely rich, sir, and without any trouble, I could pay off
the ten-billion-franc French national debt!"
I gaped at the bizarre individual who had just spoken these words.
Was he playing on my credulity? Time would tell.
The Black Current
THE PART OF THE planet earth that the seas occupy has been assessed at
3,832,558 square myriameters, hence more than 38,000,000,000 hectares.
This liquid mass totals 2,250,000,000 cubic miles and could form
a sphere with a diameter of sixty leagues, whose weight would
be three quintillion metric tons. To appreciate such a number,
we should remember that a quintillion is to a billion what a billion
is to one, in other words, there are as many billions in a quintillion
as ones in a billion! Now then, this liquid mass nearly equals
the total amount of water that has poured through all the earth's
rivers for the past 40,000 years!
During prehistoric times, an era of fire was followed by an era of water.
At first there was ocean everywhere. Then, during the Silurian period,
the tops of mountains gradually appeared above the waves,
islands emerged, disappeared beneath temporary floods, rose again,
were fused to form continents, and finally the earth's geography
settled into what we have today. Solid matter had wrested from liquid
matter some 37,657,000 square miles, hence 12,916,000,000 hectares.
The outlines of the continents allow the seas to be divided
into five major parts: the frozen Arctic and Antarctic oceans,
the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean.
The Pacific Ocean extends north to south between the two polar circles
and east to west between America and Asia over an expanse of 145
degrees of longitude. It's the most tranquil of the seas; its currents
are wide and slow-moving, its tides moderate, its rainfall abundant.
And this was the ocean that I was first destined to cross under
these strangest of auspices.
"If you don't mind, professor," Captain Nemo told me, "we'll determine
our exact position and fix the starting point of our voyage.
It's fifteen minutes before noon. I'm going to rise to the surface
of the water."
The captain pressed an electric bell three times. The pumps began
to expel water from the ballast tanks; on the pressure gauge,
a needle marked the decreasing pressures that indicated the Nautilus's
upward progress; then the needle stopped.
"Here we are," the captain said.
I made my way to the central companionway, which led to the platform.
I climbed its metal steps, passed through the open hatches,
and arrived topside on the Nautilus.
The platform emerged only eighty centimeters above the waves.
The Nautilus's bow and stern boasted that spindle-shaped outline
that had caused the ship to be compared appropriately to a long cigar.
I noted the slight overlap of its sheet-iron plates, which resembled
the scales covering the bodies of our big land reptiles. So I had
a perfectly natural explanation for why, despite the best spyglasses,
this boat had always been mistaken for a marine animal.
Near the middle of the platform, the skiff was half set in the
ship's hull, making a slight bulge. Fore and aft stood two cupolas
of moderate height, their sides slanting and partly inset with heavy
biconvex glass, one reserved for the helmsman steering the Nautilus,
the other for the brilliance of the powerful electric beacon
lighting his way.
The sea was magnificent, the skies clear. This long aquatic
vehicle could barely feel the broad undulations of the ocean.
A mild breeze out of the east rippled the surface of the water.
Free of all mist, the horizon was ideal for taking sights.
There was nothing to be seen. Not a reef, not an islet.
No more Abraham Lincoln. A deserted immenseness.
Raising his sextant, Captain Nemo took the altitude of the sun,
which would give him his latitude. He waited for a few minutes
until the orb touched the rim of the horizon. While he was taking
his sights, he didn't move a muscle, and the instrument couldn't
have been steadier in hands made out of marble.
"Noon," he said. "Professor, whenever you're ready. . . ."
I took one last look at the sea, a little yellowish near the landing
places of Japan, and I went below again to the main lounge.
There the captain fixed his position and used a chronometer
to calculate his longitude, which he double-checked against his
previous observations of hour angles. Then he told me:
"Professor Aronnax, we're in longitude 137 degrees 15' west--"
"West of which meridian?" I asked quickly, hoping the captain's
reply might give me a clue to his nationality.
"Sir," he answered me, "I have chronometers variously set to the
meridians of Paris, Greenwich, and Washington, D.C. But in your honor,
I'll use the one for Paris."
This reply told me nothing. I bowed, and the commander went on:
"We're in longitude 137 degrees 15' west of the meridian of Paris,
and latitude 30 degrees 7' north, in other words, about 300 miles
from the shores of Japan. At noon on this day of November 8,
we hereby begin our voyage of exploration under the waters."
"May God be with us!" I replied.
"And now, professor," the captain added, "I'll leave you to your
intellectual pursuits. I've set our course east-northeast at a depth
of fifty meters. Here are some large-scale charts on which you'll
be able to follow that course. The lounge is at your disposal,
and with your permission, I'll take my leave."
Captain Nemo bowed. I was left to myself, lost in my thoughts.
They all centered on the Nautilus's commander. Would I ever learn
the nationality of this eccentric man who had boasted of having none?
His sworn hate for humanity, a hate that perhaps was bent
on some dreadful revenge--what had provoked it? Was he one of
those unappreciated scholars, one of those geniuses "embittered
by the world," as Conseil expressed it, a latter-day Galileo,
or maybe one of those men of science, like America's Commander Maury,
whose careers were ruined by political revolutions? I couldn't say yet.
As for me, whom fate had just brought aboard his vessel,
whose life he had held in the balance: he had received me coolly
but hospitably. Only, he never took the hand I extended to him.
He never extended his own.
For an entire hour I was deep in these musings, trying to probe this
mystery that fascinated me so. Then my eyes focused on a huge world
map displayed on the table, and I put my finger on the very spot
where our just-determined longitude and latitude intersected.
Like the continents, the sea has its rivers. These are exclusive
currents that can be identified by their temperature and color,
the most remarkable being the one called the Gulf Stream.
Science has defined the global paths of five chief currents:
one in the north Atlantic, a second in the south Atlantic,
a third in the north Pacific, a fourth in the south Pacific,
and a fifth in the southern Indian Ocean. Also it's likely
that a sixth current used to exist in the northern Indian Ocean,
when the Caspian and Aral Seas joined up with certain large Asian
lakes to form a single uniform expanse of water.
Now then, at the spot indicated on the world map, one of these seagoing
rivers was rolling by, the Kuroshio of the Japanese, the Black Current:
heated by perpendicular rays from the tropical sun, it leaves the Bay
of Bengal, crosses the Strait of Malacca, goes up the shores of Asia,
and curves into the north Pacific as far as the Aleutian Islands,
carrying along trunks of camphor trees and other local items, the pure
indigo of its warm waters sharply contrasting with the ocean's waves.
It was this current the Nautilus was about to cross.
I watched it on the map with my eyes, I saw it lose itself in the
immenseness of the Pacific, and I felt myself swept along with it,
when Ned Land and Conseil appeared in the lounge doorway.
My two gallant companions stood petrified at the sight of the
wonders on display.
"Where are we?" the Canadian exclaimed. "In the Quebec Museum?"
"Begging master's pardon," Conseil answered, "but this seems more
like the Sommerard artifacts exhibition!"
"My friends," I replied, signaling them to enter, "you're in neither
Canada nor France, but securely aboard the Nautilus, fifty meters
below sea level."
"If master says so, then so be it," Conseil answered.
"But in all honesty, this lounge is enough to astonish even someone
Flemish like myself."
"Indulge your astonishment, my friend, and have a look, because there's
plenty of work here for a classifier of your talents."
Conseil needed no encouraging. Bending over the glass cases,
the gallant lad was already muttering choice words from the
naturalist's vocabulary: class Gastropoda, family Buccinoidea,
genus cowry, species Cypraea madagascariensis, etc.
Meanwhile Ned Land, less dedicated to conchology, questioned me
about my interview with Captain Nemo. Had I discovered who he was,
where he came from, where he was heading, how deep he was taking us?
In short, a thousand questions I had no time to answer.
I told him everything I knew--or, rather, everything I didn't know--
and I asked him what he had seen or heard on his part.
"Haven't seen or heard a thing!" the Canadian replied.
"I haven't even spotted the crew of this boat. By any chance,
could they be electric too?"
"Oh ye gods, I'm half tempted to believe it! But back to you,
Professor Aronnax," Ned Land said, still hanging on to his ideas.
"Can't you tell me how many men are on board? Ten, twenty,
fifty, a hundred?"
"I'm unable to answer you, Mr. Land. And trust me on this:
for the time being, get rid of these notions of taking over
the Nautilus or escaping from it. This boat is a masterpiece
of modern technology, and I'd be sorry to have missed it!
Many people would welcome the circumstances that have been handed us,
just to walk in the midst of these wonders. So keep calm,
and let's see what's happening around us."
"See!" the harpooner exclaimed. "There's nothing to see,
nothing we'll ever see from this sheet-iron prison! We're simply
running around blindfolded--"
Ned Land was just pronouncing these last words when we were
suddenly plunged into darkness, utter darkness. The ceiling lights
went out so quickly, my eyes literally ached, just as if we had
experienced the opposite sensation of going from the deepest gloom
to the brightest sunlight.
We stood stock-still, not knowing what surprise was waiting for us,
whether pleasant or unpleasant. But a sliding sound became audible.
You could tell that some panels were shifting over the Nautilus's sides.
"It's the beginning of the end!" Ned Land said.
". . . order Hydromedusa," Conseil muttered.
Suddenly, through two oblong openings, daylight appeared on both
sides of the lounge. The liquid masses came into view, brightly lit
by the ship's electric outpourings. We were separated from the sea
by two panes of glass. Initially I shuddered at the thought
that these fragile partitions could break; but strong copper bands
secured them, giving them nearly infinite resistance.
The sea was clearly visible for a one-mile radius around
the Nautilus. What a sight! What pen could describe it?
Who could portray the effects of this light through these translucent
sheets of water, the subtlety of its progressive shadings into
the ocean's upper and lower strata?
The transparency of salt water has long been recognized.
Its clarity is believed to exceed that of spring water.
The mineral and organic substances it holds in suspension actually
increase its translucency. In certain parts of the Caribbean Sea,
you can see the sandy bottom with startling distinctness as deep
as 145 meters down, and the penetrating power of the sun's
rays seems to give out only at a depth of 300 meters.
But in this fluid setting traveled by the Nautilus, our electric
glow was being generated in the very heart of the waves.
It was no longer illuminated water, it was liquid light.
If we accept the hypotheses of the microbiologist Ehrenberg--
who believes that these underwater depths are lit up by
phosphorescent organisms--nature has certainly saved one of her
most prodigious sights for residents of the sea, and I could
judge for myself from the thousandfold play of the light.
On both sides I had windows opening over these unexplored depths.
The darkness in the lounge enhanced the brightness outside, and we
stared as if this clear glass were the window of an immense aquarium.
The Nautilus seemed to be standing still. This was due to the lack
of landmarks. But streaks of water, parted by the ship's spur,
sometimes threaded before our eyes with extraordinary speed.
In wonderment, we leaned on our elbows before these show windows,
and our stunned silence remained unbroken until Conseil said:
"You wanted to see something, Ned my friend; well, now you have
something to see!"
"How unusual!" the Canadian put in, setting aside his tantrums
and getaway schemes while submitting to this irresistible allure.
"A man would go an even greater distance just to stare at such a sight!"
"Ah!" I exclaimed. "I see our captain's way of life!
He's found himself a separate world that saves its most astonishing
wonders just for him!"
"But where are the fish?" the Canadian ventured to observe.
"I don't see any fish!"
"Why would you care, Ned my friend?" Conseil replied.
"Since you have no knowledge of them."
"Me? A fisherman!" Ned Land exclaimed.
And on this subject a dispute arose between the two friends, since both
were knowledgeable about fish, but from totally different standpoints.
Everyone knows that fish make up the fourth and last class in
the vertebrate branch. They have been quite aptly defined as:
"cold-blooded vertebrates with a double circulatory system,
breathing through gills, and designed to live in water."
They consist of two distinct series: the series of bony fish,
in other words, those whose spines have vertebrae made of bone;
and cartilaginous fish, in other words, those whose spines have
vertebrae made of cartilage.
Possibly the Canadian was familiar with this distinction, but Conseil
knew far more about it; and since he and Ned were now fast friends,
he just had to show off. So he told the harpooner:
"Ned my friend, you're a slayer of fish, a highly skilled fisherman.
You've caught a large number of these fascinating animals.
But I'll bet you don't know how they're classified."
"Sure I do," the harpooner replied in all seriousness.
"They're classified into fish we eat and fish we don't eat!"
"Spoken like a true glutton," Conseil replied. "But tell me,
are you familiar with the differences between bony fish
and cartilaginous fish?"
"Just maybe, Conseil."
"And how about the subdivisions of these two large classes?"
"I haven't the foggiest notion," the Canadian replied.
"All right, listen and learn, Ned my friend! Bony fish are subdivided
into six orders. Primo, the acanthopterygians, whose upper jaw is fully
formed and free-moving, and whose gills take the shape of a comb.
This order consists of fifteen families, in other words,
three-quarters of all known fish. Example: the common perch."
"Pretty fair eating," Ned Land replied.
"Secundo," Conseil went on, "the abdominals, whose pelvic fins hang
under the abdomen to the rear of the pectorals but aren't attached to
the shoulder bone, an order that's divided into five families and makes
up the great majority of freshwater fish. Examples: carp, pike."
"Ugh!" the Canadian put in with distinct scorn. "You can keep
the freshwater fish!"
"Tertio," Conseil said, "the subbrachians, whose pelvic fins are
attached under the pectorals and hang directly from the shoulder bone.
This order contains four families. Examples: flatfish such
as sole, turbot, dab, plaice, brill, etc."
"Excellent, really excellent!" the harpooner exclaimed, interested in
fish only from an edible viewpoint.
"Quarto," Conseil went on, unabashed, "the apods, with long bodies
that lack pelvic fins and are covered by a heavy, often glutinous skin,
an order consisting of only one family. Examples: common eels
and electric eels."
"So-so, just so-so!" Ned Land replied.
"Quinto," Conseil said, "the lophobranchians, which have fully formed,
free-moving jaws but whose gills consist of little tufts arranged
in pairs along their gill arches. This order includes only
one family. Examples: seahorses and dragonfish."
"Bad, very bad!" the harpooner replied.
"Sexto and last," Conseil said, "the plectognaths, whose maxillary
bone is firmly attached to the side of the intermaxillary that forms
the jaw, and whose palate arch is locked to the skull by sutures
that render the jaw immovable, an order lacking true pelvic fins
and which consists of two families. Examples: puffers and moonfish."
"They're an insult to a frying pan!" the Canadian exclaimed.
"Are you grasping all this, Ned my friend?" asked the scholarly Conseil.
"Not a lick of it, Conseil my friend," the harpooner replied.
"But keep going, because you fill me with fascination."
"As for cartilaginous fish," Conseil went on unflappably,
"they consist of only three orders."
"Good news," Ned put in.
"Primo, the cyclostomes, whose jaws are fused into a flexible
ring and whose gill openings are simply a large number of holes,
an order consisting of only one family. Example: the lamprey."
"An acquired taste," Ned Land replied.
"Secundo, the selacians, with gills resembling those of the cyclostomes
but whose lower jaw is free-moving. This order, which is the most
important in the class, consists of two families. Examples: the ray
and the shark."
"What!" Ned Land exclaimed. "Rays and man-eaters in the same order?
Well, Conseil my friend, on behalf of the rays, I wouldn't advise
you to put them in the same fish tank!"
"Tertio," Conseil replied, "The sturionians, whose gill opening is
the usual single slit adorned with a gill cover, an order consisting
of four genera. Example: the sturgeon."
"Ah, Conseil my friend, you saved the best for last, in my
opinion anyhow! And that's all of 'em?"
"Yes, my gallant Ned," Conseil replied. "And note well, even when one
has grasped all this, one still knows next to nothing, because these
families are subdivided into genera, subgenera, species, varieties--"
"All right, Conseil my friend," the harpooner said, leaning toward
the glass panel, "here come a couple of your varieties now!"
"Yes! Fish!" Conseil exclaimed. "One would think he was in front
of an aquarium!"
"No," I replied, "because an aquarium is nothing more than a cage,
and these fish are as free as birds in the air!"
"Well, Conseil my friend, identify them! Start naming them!"
Ned Land exclaimed.
"Me?" Conseil replied. "I'm unable to! That's my employer's bailiwick!"
And in truth, although the fine lad was a classifying maniac, he was
no naturalist, and I doubt that he could tell a bonito from a tuna.
In short, he was the exact opposite of the Canadian, who knew nothing
about classification but could instantly put a name to any fish.
"A triggerfish," I said.
"It's a Chinese triggerfish," Ned Land replied.
"Genus Balistes, family Scleroderma, order Plectognatha,"
Assuredly, Ned and Conseil in combination added up to
one outstanding naturalist.
The Canadian was not mistaken. Cavorting around the Nautilus
was a school of triggerfish with flat bodies, grainy skins,
armed with stings on their dorsal fins, and with four prickly
rows of quills quivering on both sides of their tails.
Nothing could have been more wonderful than the skin covering them:
white underneath, gray above, with spots of gold sparkling in
the dark eddies of the waves. Around them, rays were undulating
like sheets flapping in the wind, and among these I spotted,
much to my glee, a Chinese ray, yellowish on its topside, a dainty
pink on its belly, and armed with three stings behind its eyes;
a rare species whose very existence was still doubted in Lacépède's day,
since that pioneering classifier of fish had seen one only in a
portfolio of Japanese drawings.
For two hours a whole aquatic army escorted the Nautilus. In the midst
of their leaping and cavorting, while they competed with each other
in beauty, radiance, and speed, I could distinguish some green wrasse,
bewhiskered mullet marked with pairs of black lines, white gobies from
the genus Eleotris with curved caudal fins and violet spots on the back,
wonderful Japanese mackerel from the genus Scomber with blue bodies
and silver heads, glittering azure goldfish whose name by itself
gives their full description, several varieties of porgy or gilthead
(some banded gilthead with fins variously blue and yellow,
some with horizontal heraldic bars and enhanced by a black strip
around their caudal area, some with color zones and elegantly corseted
in their six waistbands), trumpetfish with flutelike beaks that looked
like genuine seafaring woodcocks and were sometimes a meter long,
Japanese salamanders, serpentine moray eels from the genus Echidna
that were six feet long with sharp little eyes and a huge mouth
bristling with teeth; etc.
Our wonderment stayed at an all-time fever pitch.
Our exclamations were endless. Ned identified the fish,
Conseil classified them, and as for me, I was in ecstasy over
the verve of their movements and the beauty of their forms.
Never before had I been given the chance to glimpse these animals
alive and at large in their native element.
Given such a complete collection from the seas of Japan and China, I
won't mention every variety that passed before our dazzled eyes.
More numerous than birds in the air, these fish raced right up to us,
no doubt attracted by the brilliant glow of our electric beacon.
Suddenly daylight appeared in the lounge. The sheet-iron panels
slid shut. The magical vision disappeared. But for a good
while I kept dreaming away, until the moment my eyes focused on
the instruments hanging on the wall. The compass still showed our
heading as east-northeast, the pressure gauge indicated a pressure
of five atmospheres (corresponding to a depth of fifty meters),
and the electric log gave our speed as fifteen miles per hour.
I waited for Captain Nemo. But he didn't appear. The clock marked
the hour of five.
Ned Land and Conseil returned to their cabin. As for me,
I repaired to my stateroom. There I found dinner ready for me.
It consisted of turtle soup made from the daintiest hawksbill,
a red mullet with white, slightly flaky flesh, whose liver,
when separately prepared, makes delicious eating, plus loin of
imperial angelfish, whose flavor struck me as even better than salmon.
I spent the evening in reading, writing, and thinking.
Then drowsiness overtook me, I stretched out on my eelgrass mattress,
and I fell into a deep slumber, while the Nautilus glided through
the swiftly flowing Black Current.
An Invitation in Writing
THE NEXT DAY, November 9, I woke up only after a long,
twelve-hour slumber. Conseil, a creature of habit, came to
ask "how master's night went," and to offer his services.
He had left his Canadian friend sleeping like a man who had never
done anything else.
I let the gallant lad babble as he pleased, without giving him
much in the way of a reply. I was concerned about Captain Nemo's
absence during our session the previous afternoon, and I hoped
to see him again today.
Soon I had put on my clothes, which were woven from strands of
seashell tissue. More than once their composition provoked comments
from Conseil. I informed him that they were made from the smooth,
silken filaments with which the fan mussel, a type of seashell quite
abundant along Mediterranean beaches, attaches itself to rocks.
In olden times, fine fabrics, stockings, and gloves were made from
such filaments, because they were both very soft and very warm.
So the Nautilus's crew could dress themselves at little cost,
without needing a thing from cotton growers, sheep, or silkworms on shore.
As soon as I was dressed, I made my way to the main lounge.
It was deserted.
I dove into studying the conchological treasures amassed inside
the glass cases. I also investigated the huge plant albums that
were filled with the rarest marine herbs, which, although they
were pressed and dried, still kept their wonderful colors.
Among these valuable water plants, I noted various seaweed:
some Cladostephus verticillatus, peacock's tails, fig-leafed caulerpa,
grain-bearing beauty bushes, delicate rosetangle tinted scarlet,
sea colander arranged into fan shapes, mermaid's cups that looked
like the caps of squat mushrooms and for years had been classified
among the zoophytes; in short, a complete series of algae.
The entire day passed without my being honored by a visit
from Captain Nemo. The panels in the lounge didn't open.
Perhaps they didn't want us to get tired of these beautiful things.
The Nautilus kept to an east-northeasterly heading, a speed of twelve
miles per hour, and a depth between fifty and sixty meters.
Next day, November 10: the same neglect, the same solitude.
I didn't see a soul from the crew. Ned and Conseil spent
the better part of the day with me. They were astonished at
the captain's inexplicable absence. Was this eccentric man ill?
Did he want to change his plans concerning us?
But after all, as Conseil noted, we enjoyed complete freedom,
we were daintily and abundantly fed. Our host had kept to the terms
of his agreement. We couldn't complain, and moreover the very
uniqueness of our situation had such generous rewards in store for us,
we had no grounds for criticism.
That day I started my diary of these adventures, which has enabled me
to narrate them with the most scrupulous accuracy; and one odd detail:
I wrote it on paper manufactured from marine eelgrass.
Early in the morning on November 11, fresh air poured through
the Nautilus's interior, informing me that we had returned
to the surface of the ocean to renew our oxygen supply.
I headed for the central companionway and climbed onto the platform.
It was six o'clock. I found the weather overcast, the sea gray but calm.
Hardly a billow. I hoped to encounter Captain Nemo there--would he come?
I saw only the helmsman imprisoned in his glass-windowed pilothouse.
Seated on the ledge furnished by the hull of the skiff, I inhaled
the sea's salty aroma with great pleasure.
Little by little, the mists were dispersed under the action
of the sun's rays. The radiant orb cleared the eastern horizon.
Under its gaze, the sea caught on fire like a trail of gunpowder.
Scattered on high, the clouds were colored in bright, wonderfully
shaded hues, and numerous "ladyfingers" warned of daylong winds.*
*Author's Note: "Ladyfingers" are small, thin, white clouds
with ragged edges.
But what were mere winds to this Nautilus, which no storms
So I was marveling at this delightful sunrise, so life-giving
and cheerful, when I heard someone climbing onto the platform.
I was prepared to greet Captain Nemo, but it was his chief
officer who appeared--whom I had already met during our first
visit with the captain. He advanced over the platform,
not seeming to notice my presence. A powerful spyglass to his eye,
he scrutinized every point of the horizon with the utmost care.
Then, his examination over, he approached the hatch and pronounced
a phrase whose exact wording follows below. I remember it because,
every morning, it was repeated under the same circumstances.
It ran like this:
"Nautron respoc lorni virch."
What it meant I was unable to say.
These words pronounced, the chief officer went below again.
I thought the Nautilus was about to resume its underwater navigating.
So I went down the hatch and back through the gangways to my stateroom.
Five days passed in this way with no change in our situation.
Every morning I climbed onto the platform. The same phrase was
pronounced by the same individual. Captain Nemo did not appear.
I was pursuing the policy that we had seen the last of him,
when on November 16, while reentering my stateroom with Ned
and Conseil, I found a note addressed to me on the table.
I opened it impatiently. It was written in a script that was clear
and neat but a bit "Old English" in style, its characters reminding
me of German calligraphy.
The note was worded as follows:
Aboard the Nautilus
November 16, 1867
Captain Nemo invites Professor Aronnax on a hunting trip that
will take place tomorrow morning in his Crespo Island forests.
He hopes nothing will prevent the professor from attending, and he looks
forward with pleasure to the professor's companions joining him.
Commander of the Nautilus.
"A hunting trip!" Ned exclaimed.
"And in his forests on Crespo Island!" Conseil added.
"But does this mean the old boy goes ashore?" Ned Land went on.
"That seems to be the gist of it," I said, rereading the letter.
"Well, we've got to accept!" the Canadian answered.
"Once we're on solid ground, we'll figure out a course of action.
Besides, it wouldn't pain me to eat a couple slices of fresh venison!"
Without trying to reconcile the contradictions between Captain Nemo's
professed horror of continents or islands and his invitation to go
hunting in a forest, I was content to reply:
"First let's look into this Crespo Island."
I consulted the world map; and in latitude 32 degrees 40'
north and longitude 167 degrees 50' west, I found an islet that had
been discovered in 1801 by Captain Crespo, which old Spanish charts
called Rocca de la Plata, in other words, "Silver Rock." So we were
about 1,800 miles from our starting point, and by a slight change
of heading, the Nautilus was bringing us back toward the southeast.
I showed my companions this small, stray rock in the middle
of the north Pacific.
"If Captain Nemo does sometimes go ashore," I told them, "at least
he only picks desert islands!"
Ned Land shook his head without replying; then he and Conseil left me.
After supper was served me by the mute and emotionless steward,
I fell asleep; but not without some anxieties.
When I woke up the next day, November 17, I sensed that the Nautilus
was completely motionless. I dressed hurriedly and entered
the main lounge.
Captain Nemo was there waiting for me. He stood up, bowed, and asked
if it suited me to come along.
Since he made no allusion to his absence the past eight days,
I also refrained from mentioning it, and I simply answered that my
companions and I were ready to go with him.
"Only, sir," I added, "I'll take the liberty of addressing
a question to you."
"Address away, Professor Aronnax, and if I'm able to answer, I will."
"Well then, captain, how is it that you've severed all ties with
the shore, yet you own forests on Crespo Island?"
"Professor," the captain answered me, "these forests of mine
don't bask in the heat and light of the sun. They aren't
frequented by lions, tigers, panthers, or other quadrupeds.
They're known only to me. They grow only for me. These forests
aren't on land, they're actual underwater forests."
"Underwater forests!" I exclaimed.
"And you're offering to take me to them?"
"Without getting your feet wet."
"Rifles in hand?"
"Rifles in hand."
I stared at the Nautilus's commander with an air anything but
flattering to the man.
"Assuredly," I said to myself, "he's contracted some mental illness.
He's had a fit that's lasted eight days and isn't over even yet.
What a shame! I liked him better eccentric than insane!"
These thoughts were clearly readable on my face; but Captain Nemo
remained content with inviting me to follow him, and I did so like
a man resigned to the worst.
We arrived at the dining room, where we found breakfast served.
"Professor Aronnax," the captain told me, "I beg you to share
my breakfast without formality. We can chat while we eat.
Because, although I promised you a stroll in my forests, I made
no pledge to arrange for your encountering a restaurant there.
Accordingly, eat your breakfast like a man who'll probably eat
dinner only when it's extremely late."
I did justice to this meal. It was made up of various fish
and some slices of sea cucumber, that praiseworthy zoophyte,
all garnished with such highly appetizing seaweed as the Porphyra
laciniata and the Laurencia primafetida. Our beverage consisted
of clear water to which, following the captain's example, I added
some drops of a fermented liquor extracted by the Kamchatka process
from the seaweed known by name as Rhodymenia palmata.
At first Captain Nemo ate without pronouncing a single word.
Then he told me:
"Professor, when I proposed that you go hunting in my Crespo forests,
you thought I was contradicting myself. When I informed you that it
was an issue of underwater forests, you thought I'd gone insane.
Professor, you must never make snap judgments about your fellow man."
"But, captain, believe me--"
"Kindly listen to me, and you'll see if you have grounds for accusing
me of insanity or self-contradiction."
"I'm all attention."
"Professor, you know as well as I do that a man can live underwater
so long as he carries with him his own supply of breathable air.
For underwater work projects, the workman wears a waterproof suit
with his head imprisoned in a metal capsule, while he receives air
from above by means of force pumps and flow regulators."
"That's the standard equipment for a diving suit," I said.
"Correct, but under such conditions the man has no freedom.
He's attached to a pump that sends him air through an india-rubber hose;
it's an actual chain that fetters him to the shore, and if we were
to be bound in this way to the Nautilus, we couldn't go far either."
"Then how do you break free?" I asked.
"We use the Rouquayrol-Denayrouze device, invented by two of your
fellow countrymen but refined by me for my own special uses,
thereby enabling you to risk these new physiological conditions
without suffering any organic disorders. It consists of a tank
built from heavy sheet iron in which I store air under a pressure
of fifty atmospheres. This tank is fastened to the back by means
of straps, like a soldier's knapsack. Its top part forms a box
where the air is regulated by a bellows mechanism and can be
released only at its proper tension. In the Rouquayrol device
that has been in general use, two india-rubber hoses leave this
box and feed to a kind of tent that imprisons the operator's nose
and mouth; one hose is for the entrance of air to be inhaled,
the other for the exit of air to be exhaled, and the tongue closes
off the former or the latter depending on the breather's needs.
But in my case, since I face considerable pressures at the bottom
of the sea, I needed to enclose my head in a copper sphere,
like those found on standard diving suits, and the two hoses
for inhalation and exhalation now feed to that sphere."
"That's perfect, Captain Nemo, but the air you carry must be
quickly depleted; and once it contains no more than 15% oxygen,
it becomes unfit for breathing."
"Surely, but as I told you, Professor Aronnax, the Nautilus's
pumps enable me to store air under considerable pressure,
and given this circumstance, the tank on my diving equipment can
supply breathable air for nine or ten hours."
"I've no more objections to raise," I replied. "I'll only
ask you, captain: how can you light your way at the bottom
of the ocean?"
"With the Ruhmkorff device, Professor Aronnax. If the first
is carried on the back, the second is fastened to the belt.
It consists of a Bunsen battery that I activate not with potassium
dichromate but with sodium. An induction coil gathers the electricity
generated and directs it to a specially designed lantern.
In this lantern one finds a glass spiral that contains only
a residue of carbon dioxide gas. When the device is operating,
this gas becomes luminous and gives off a continuous whitish light.
Thus provided for, I breathe and I see."
"Captain Nemo, to my every objection you give such crushing answers,
I'm afraid to entertain a single doubt. However, though I have no
choice but to accept both the Rouquayrol and Ruhmkorff devices,
I'd like to register some reservations about the rifle with which
you'll equip me."
"But it isn't a rifle that uses gunpowder," the captain replied.
"Then it's an air gun?"
"Surely. How can I make gunpowder on my ship when I have no saltpeter,
sulfur, or charcoal?"
"Even so," I replied, "to fire underwater in a medium that's 855 times
denser than air, you'd have to overcome considerable resistance."
"That doesn't necessarily follow. There are certain Fulton-style
guns perfected by the Englishmen Philippe-Coles and Burley,
the Frenchman Furcy, and the Italian Landi; they're equipped
with a special system of airtight fastenings and can fire
in underwater conditions. But I repeat: having no gunpowder,
I've replaced it with air at high pressure, which is abundantly
supplied me by the Nautilus's pumps."
"But this air must be swiftly depleted."
"Well, in a pinch can't my Rouquayrol tank supply me with more? All I
have to do is draw it from an ad hoc spigot.* Besides, Professor Aronnax,
you'll see for yourself that during these underwater hunting trips,
we make no great expenditure of either air or bullets."
*Latin: a spigot "just for that purpose." Ed.
"But it seems to me that in this semidarkness, amid this liquid
that's so dense in comparison to the atmosphere, a gunshot couldn't
carry far and would prove fatal only with difficulty!"
"On the contrary, sir, with this rifle every shot is fatal;
and as soon as the animal is hit, no matter how lightly, it falls
as if struck by lightning."
"Because this rifle doesn't shoot ordinary bullets but little
glass capsules invented by the Austrian chemist Leniebroek,
and I have a considerable supply of them. These glass capsules
are covered with a strip of steel and weighted with a lead base;
they're genuine little Leyden jars charged with high-voltage electricity.
They go off at the slightest impact, and the animal, no matter
how strong, drops dead. I might add that these capsules are no
bigger than number 4 shot, and the chamber of any ordinary rifle
could hold ten of them."
"I'll quit debating," I replied, getting up from the table.
"And all that's left is for me to shoulder my rifle.
So where you go, I'll go."
Captain Nemo led me to the Nautilus's stern, and passing
by Ned and Conseil's cabin, I summoned my two companions,
who instantly followed us.
Then we arrived at a cell located within easy access of the engine room;
in this cell we were to get dressed for our stroll.
Strolling the Plains
THIS CELL, properly speaking, was the Nautilus's arsenal and wardrobe.
Hanging from its walls, a dozen diving outfits were waiting for
anybody who wanted to take a stroll.
After seeing these, Ned Land exhibited an obvious distaste for the idea
of putting one on.
"But my gallant Ned," I told him, "the forests of Crespo Island
are simply underwater forests!"
"Oh great!" put in the disappointed harpooner, watching his dreams
of fresh meat fade away. "And you, Professor Aronnax, are you
going to stick yourself inside these clothes?"
"It has to be, Mr. Ned."
"Have it your way, sir," the harpooner replied, shrugging his shoulders.
"But speaking for myself, I'll never get into those things unless
they force me!"
"No one will force you, Mr. Land," Captain Nemo said.
"And is Conseil going to risk it?" Ned asked.
"Where master goes, I go," Conseil replied.
At the captain's summons, two crewmen came to help us put
on these heavy, waterproof clothes, made from seamless india
rubber and expressly designed to bear considerable pressures.
They were like suits of armor that were both yielding and resistant,
you might say. These clothes consisted of jacket and pants.
The pants ended in bulky footwear adorned with heavy lead soles.
The fabric of the jacket was reinforced with copper mail that shielded
the chest, protected it from the water's pressure, and allowed
the lungs to function freely; the sleeves ended in supple gloves
that didn't impede hand movements.
These perfected diving suits, it was easy to see, were a far cry from
such misshapen costumes as the cork breastplates, leather jumpers,
seagoing tunics, barrel helmets, etc., invented and acclaimed
in the 18th century.
Conseil and I were soon dressed in these diving suits, as were
Captain Nemo and one of his companions--a herculean type who must
have been prodigiously strong. All that remained was to encase one's
head in its metal sphere. But before proceeding with this operation,
I asked the captain for permission to examine the rifles set
aside for us.
One of the Nautilus's men presented me with a streamlined rifle
whose butt was boilerplate steel, hollow inside, and of fairly
large dimensions. This served as a tank for the compressed air,
which a trigger-operated valve could release into the metal chamber.
In a groove where the butt was heaviest, a cartridge clip
held some twenty electric bullets that, by means of a spring,
automatically took their places in the barrel of the rifle.
As soon as one shot had been fired, another was ready to go off.
"Captain Nemo," I said, "this is an ideal, easy-to-use weapon.
I ask only to put it to the test. But how will we reach the bottom
of the sea?"
"Right now, professor, the Nautilus is aground in ten meters of water,
and we've only to depart."
"But how will we set out?"
Captain Nemo inserted his cranium into its spherical headgear.
Conseil and I did the same, but not without hearing the Canadian
toss us a sarcastic "happy hunting." On top, the suit ended in a
collar of threaded copper onto which the metal helmet was screwed.
Three holes, protected by heavy glass, allowed us to see in any
direction with simply a turn of the head inside the sphere.
Placed on our backs, the Rouquayrol device went into operation as soon
as it was in position, and for my part, I could breathe with ease.
The Ruhmkorff lamp hanging from my belt, my rifle in hand,
I was ready to go forth. But in all honesty, while imprisoned
in these heavy clothes and nailed to the deck by my lead soles,
it was impossible for me to take a single step.
But this circumstance had been foreseen, because I felt
myself propelled into a little room adjoining the wardrobe.
Towed in the same way, my companions went with me. I heard a door
with watertight seals close after us, and we were surrounded
by profound darkness.
After some minutes a sharp hissing reached my ears.
I felt a distinct sensation of cold rising from my feet to my chest.
Apparently a stopcock inside the boat was letting in water
from outside, which overran us and soon filled up the room.
Contrived in the Nautilus's side, a second door then opened.
We were lit by a subdued light. An instant later our feet were
treading the bottom of the sea.
And now, how can I convey the impressions left on me by this stroll
under the waters. Words are powerless to describe such wonders!
When even the painter's brush can't depict the effects unique to
the liquid element, how can the writer's pen hope to reproduce them?
Captain Nemo walked in front, and his companion followed us a few steps
to the rear. Conseil and I stayed next to each other, as if daydreaming
that through our metal carapaces, a little polite conversation
might still be possible! Already I no longer felt the bulkiness
of my clothes, footwear, and air tank, nor the weight of the heavy
sphere inside which my head was rattling like an almond in its shell.
Once immersed in water, all these objects lost a part of their
weight equal to the weight of the liquid they displaced, and thanks
to this law of physics discovered by Archimedes, I did just fine.
I was no longer an inert mass, and I had, comparatively speaking,
great freedom of movement.
Lighting up the seafloor even thirty feet beneath the surface
of the ocean, the sun astonished me with its power. The solar rays
easily crossed this aqueous mass and dispersed its dark colors.
I could easily distinguish objects 100 meters away. Farther on,
the bottom was tinted with fine shades of ultramarine; then, off in
the distance, it turned blue and faded in the midst of a hazy darkness.
Truly, this water surrounding me was just a kind of air,
denser than the atmosphere on land but almost as transparent.
Above me I could see the calm surface of the ocean.
We were walking on sand that was fine-grained and smooth,
not wrinkled like beach sand, which preserves the impressions
left by the waves. This dazzling carpet was a real mirror,
throwing back the sun's rays with startling intensity. The outcome:
an immense vista of reflections that penetrated every liquid molecule.
Will anyone believe me if I assert that at this thirty-foot depth,
I could see as if it was broad daylight?
For a quarter of an hour, I trod this blazing sand, which was
strewn with tiny crumbs of seashell. Looming like a long reef,
the Nautilus's hull disappeared little by little, but when night fell
in the midst of the waters, the ship's beacon would surely facilitate
our return on board, since its rays carried with perfect distinctness.
This effect is difficult to understand for anyone who has never
seen light beams so sharply defined on shore. There the dust that
saturates the air gives such rays the appearance of a luminous fog;
but above water as well as underwater, shafts of electric light
are transmitted with incomparable clarity.
Meanwhile we went ever onward, and these vast plains of sand
seemed endless. My hands parted liquid curtains that closed again
behind me, and my footprints faded swiftly under the water's pressure.
Soon, scarcely blurred by their distance from us, the forms of some
objects took shape before my eyes. I recognized the lower slopes
of some magnificent rocks carpeted by the finest zoophyte specimens,
and right off, I was struck by an effect unique to this medium.
By then it was ten o'clock in the morning. The sun's rays hit
the surface of the waves at a fairly oblique angle, decomposing by
refraction as though passing through a prism; and when this light came
in contact with flowers, rocks, buds, seashells, and polyps, the edges
of these objects were shaded with all seven hues of the solar spectrum.
This riot of rainbow tints was a wonder, a feast for the eyes:
a genuine kaleidoscope of red, green, yellow, orange, violet, indigo,
and blue; in short, the whole palette of a color-happy painter!
If only I had been able to share with Conseil the intense sensations
rising in my brain, competing with him in exclamations of wonderment!
If only I had known, like Captain Nemo and his companion,
how to exchange thoughts by means of prearranged signals!
So, for lack of anything better, I talked to myself: I declaimed
inside this copper box that topped my head, spending more air
on empty words than was perhaps advisable.
Conseil, like me, had stopped before this splendid sight.
Obviously, in the presence of these zoophyte and mollusk specimens,
the fine lad was classifying his head off. Polyps and echinoderms
abounded on the seafloor: various isis coral, cornularian coral
living in isolation, tufts of virginal genus Oculina formerly
known by the name "white coral," prickly fungus coral in the shape
of mushrooms, sea anemone holding on by their muscular disks,
providing a literal flowerbed adorned by jellyfish from the genus
Porpita wearing collars of azure tentacles, and starfish that spangled
the sand, including veinlike feather stars from the genus Asterophyton
that were like fine lace embroidered by the hands of water nymphs,
their festoons swaying to the faint undulations caused by our walking.
It filled me with real chagrin to crush underfoot the gleaming
mollusk samples that littered the seafloor by the thousands:
concentric comb shells, hammer shells, coquina (seashells that actually
hop around), top-shell snails, red helmet shells, angel-wing conchs,
sea hares, and so many other exhibits from this inexhaustible ocean.
But we had to keep walking, and we went forward while overhead there
scudded schools of Portuguese men-of-war that let their ultramarine
tentacles drift in their wakes, medusas whose milky white or dainty
pink parasols were festooned with azure tassels and shaded us from
the sun's rays, plus jellyfish of the species Pelagia panopyra that,
in the dark, would have strewn our path with phosphorescent glimmers!
All these wonders I glimpsed in the space of a quarter of a mile,
barely pausing, following Captain Nemo whose gestures kept beckoning
me onward. Soon the nature of the seafloor changed. The plains of sand
were followed by a bed of that viscous slime Americans call "ooze,"
which is composed exclusively of seashells rich in limestone or silica.
Then we crossed a prairie of algae, open-sea plants that the waters
hadn't yet torn loose, whose vegetation grew in wild profusion.
Soft to the foot, these densely textured lawns would have
rivaled the most luxuriant carpets woven by the hand of man.
But while this greenery was sprawling under our steps, it didn't
neglect us overhead. The surface of the water was crisscrossed
by a floating arbor of marine plants belonging to that superabundant
algae family that numbers more than 2,000 known species.
I saw long ribbons of fucus drifting above me, some globular,
others tubular: Laurencia, Cladostephus with the slenderest foliage,
Rhodymenia palmata resembling the fan shapes of cactus.
I observed that green-colored plants kept closer to the surface
of the sea, while reds occupied a medium depth, which left
blacks and browns in charge of designing gardens and flowerbeds
in the ocean's lower strata.
These algae are a genuine prodigy of creation, one of the wonders
of world flora. This family produces both the biggest and smallest
vegetables in the world. Because, just as 40,000 near-invisible
buds have been counted in one five-square-millimeter space, so also
have fucus plants been gathered that were over 500 meters long!
We had been gone from the Nautilus for about an hour and a half.
It was almost noon. I spotted this fact in the perpendicularity
of the sun's rays, which were no longer refracted. The magic
of these solar colors disappeared little by little, with emerald
and sapphire shades vanishing from our surroundings altogether.
We walked with steady steps that rang on the seafloor with
astonishing intensity. The tiniest sounds were transmitted
with a speed to which the ear is unaccustomed on shore.
In fact, water is a better conductor of sound than air, and under
the waves noises carry four times as fast.
Just then the seafloor began to slope sharply downward.
The light took on a uniform hue. We reached a depth of 100 meters,
by which point we were undergoing a pressure of ten atmospheres.
But my diving clothes were built along such lines that I never
suffered from this pressure. I felt only a certain tightness in
the joints of my fingers, and even this discomfort soon disappeared.
As for the exhaustion bound to accompany a two-hour stroll
in such unfamiliar trappings--it was nil. Helped by the water,
my movements were executed with startling ease.
Arriving at this 300-foot depth, I still detected the sun's rays,
but just barely. Their intense brilliance had been followed
by a reddish twilight, a midpoint between day and night.
But we could see well enough to find our way, and it still wasn't
necessary to activate the Ruhmkorff device.
Just then Captain Nemo stopped. He waited until I joined him,
then he pointed a finger at some dark masses outlined in the shadows
a short distance away.
"It's the forest of Crespo Island," I thought; and I was not mistaken.
An Underwater Forest
WE HAD FINALLY arrived on the outskirts of this forest,
surely one of the finest in Captain Nemo's immense domains.
He regarded it as his own and had laid the same claim to it that,
in the first days of the world, the first men had to their forests
on land. Besides, who else could dispute his ownership of this
underwater property? What other, bolder pioneer would come,
ax in hand, to clear away its dark underbrush?
This forest was made up of big treelike plants, and when we
entered beneath their huge arches, my eyes were instantly struck
by the unique arrangement of their branches--an arrangement that I
had never before encountered.
None of the weeds carpeting the seafloor, none of the branches bristling
from the shrubbery, crept, or leaned, or stretched on a horizontal plane.
They all rose right up toward the surface of the ocean.
Every filament or ribbon, no matter how thin, stood ramrod straight.
Fucus plants and creepers were growing in stiff perpendicular lines,
governed by the density of the element that generated them.
After I parted them with my hands, these otherwise motionless
plants would shoot right back to their original positions.
It was the regime of verticality.
I soon grew accustomed to this bizarre arrangement, likewise to
the comparative darkness surrounding us. The seafloor in this forest
was strewn with sharp chunks of stone that were hard to avoid.
Here the range of underwater flora seemed pretty comprehensive to me,
as well as more abundant than it might have been in the arctic
or tropical zones, where such exhibits are less common.
But for a few minutes I kept accidentally confusing the two kingdoms,
mistaking zoophytes for water plants, animals for vegetables.
And who hasn't made the same blunder? Flora and fauna are so closely
associated in the underwater world!
I observed that all these exhibits from the vegetable kingdom
were attached to the seafloor by only the most makeshift methods.
They had no roots and didn't care which solid objects
secured them, sand, shells, husks, or pebbles; they didn't
ask their hosts for sustenance, just a point of purchase.
These plants are entirely self-propagating, and the principle of
their existence lies in the water that sustains and nourishes them.
In place of leaves, most of them sprouted blades of unpredictable shape,
which were confined to a narrow gamut of colors consisting only
of pink, crimson, green, olive, tan, and brown. There I saw again,
but not yet pressed and dried like the Nautilus's specimens,
some peacock's tails spread open like fans to stir up a cooling breeze,
scarlet rosetangle, sea tangle stretching out their young and
edible shoots, twisting strings of kelp from the genus Nereocystis
that bloomed to a height of fifteen meters, bouquets of mermaid's cups
whose stems grew wider at the top, and a number of other open-sea plants,
all without flowers. "It's an odd anomaly in this bizarre element!"
as one witty naturalist puts it. "The animal kingdom blossoms,
and the vegetable kingdom doesn't!"
These various types of shrubbery were as big as trees in the
temperate zones; in the damp shade between them, there were clustered
actual bushes of moving flowers, hedges of zoophytes in which there
grew stony coral striped with twisting furrows, yellowish sea anemone
from the genus Caryophylia with translucent tentacles, plus anemone
with grassy tufts from the genus Zoantharia; and to complete the illusion,
minnows flitted from branch to branch like a swarm of hummingbirds,
while there rose underfoot, like a covey of snipe, yellow fish
from the genus Lepisocanthus with bristling jaws and sharp scales,
flying gurnards, and pinecone fish.
Near one o'clock, Captain Nemo gave the signal to halt.
Speaking for myself, I was glad to oblige, and we stretched out
beneath an arbor of winged kelp, whose long thin tendrils stood
up like arrows.
This short break was a delight. It lacked only the charm
of conversation. But it was impossible to speak, impossible to reply.
I simply nudged my big copper headpiece against Conseil's headpiece.
I saw a happy gleam in the gallant lad's eyes, and to communicate
his pleasure, he jiggled around inside his carapace in the
world's silliest way.
After four hours of strolling, I was quite astonished not
to feel any intense hunger. What kept my stomach in such a
good mood I'm unable to say. But, in exchange, I experienced
that irresistible desire for sleep that comes over every diver.
Accordingly, my eyes soon closed behind their heavy glass windows
and I fell into an uncontrollable doze, which until then I had been
able to fight off only through the movements of our walking.
Captain Nemo and his muscular companion were already stretched
out in this clear crystal, setting us a fine naptime example.
How long I was sunk in this torpor I cannot estimate; but when I awoke,
it seemed as if the sun were settling toward the horizon.
Captain Nemo was already up, and I had started to stretch my limbs,
when an unexpected apparition brought me sharply to my feet.
A few paces away, a monstrous, meter-high sea spider was
staring at me with beady eyes, poised to spring at me.
Although my diving suit was heavy enough to protect me from this
animal's bites, I couldn't keep back a shudder of horror.
Just then Conseil woke up, together with the Nautilus's sailor.
Captain Nemo alerted his companion to this hideous crustacean,
which a swing of the rifle butt quickly brought down, and I watched
the monster's horrible legs writhing in dreadful convulsions.
This encounter reminded me that other, more daunting animals must
be lurking in these dark reaches, and my diving suit might not be
adequate protection against their attacks. Such thoughts hadn't
previously crossed my mind, and I was determined to keep on my guard.
Meanwhile I had assumed this rest period would be the turning point
in our stroll, but I was mistaken; and instead of heading back
to the Nautilus, Captain Nemo continued his daring excursion.
The seafloor kept sinking, and its significantly steeper slope took
us to greater depths. It must have been nearly three o'clock when we
reached a narrow valley gouged between high, vertical walls and
located 150 meters down. Thanks to the perfection of our equipment,
we had thus gone ninety meters below the limit that nature had,
until then, set on man's underwater excursions.
I say 150 meters, although I had no instruments for estimating
this distance. But I knew that the sun's rays, even in
the clearest seas, could reach no deeper. So at precisely
this point the darkness became profound. Not a single object
was visible past ten paces. Consequently, I had begun to grope
my way when suddenly I saw the glow of an intense white light.
Captain Nemo had just activated his electric device.
His companion did likewise. Conseil and I followed suit.
By turning a switch, I established contact between the induction
coil and the glass spiral, and the sea, lit up by our four lanterns,
was illuminated for a radius of twenty-five meters.
Captain Nemo continued to plummet into the dark depths of this forest,
whose shrubbery grew ever more sparse. I observed that vegetable
life was disappearing more quickly than animal life. The open-sea
plants had already left behind the increasingly arid seafloor,
where a prodigious number of animals were still swarming:
zoophytes, articulates, mollusks, and fish.
While we were walking, I thought the lights of our Ruhmkorff devices
would automatically attract some inhabitants of these dark strata.
But if they did approach us, at least they kept at a distance regrettable
from the hunter's standpoint. Several times I saw Captain Nemo stop
and take aim with his rifle; then, after sighting down its barrel
for a few seconds, he would straighten up and resume his walk.
Finally, at around four o'clock, this marvelous excursion came to an end.
A wall of superb rocks stood before us, imposing in its sheer mass:
a pile of gigantic stone blocks, an enormous granite cliffside pitted
with dark caves but not offering a single gradient we could climb up.
This was the underpinning of Crespo Island. This was land.
The captain stopped suddenly. A gesture from him brought us to a halt,
and however much I wanted to clear this wall, I had to stop.
Here ended the domains of Captain Nemo. He had no desire to pass
beyond them. Farther on lay a part of the globe he would no
longer tread underfoot.
Our return journey began. Captain Nemo resumed the lead
in our little band, always heading forward without hesitation.
I noted that we didn't follow the same path in returning to
the Nautilus. This new route, very steep and hence very arduous,
quickly took us close to the surface of the sea. But this
return to the upper strata wasn't so sudden that decompression
took place too quickly, which could have led to serious organic
disorders and given us those internal injuries so fatal to divers.
With great promptness, the light reappeared and grew stronger;
and the refraction of the sun, already low on the horizon, again ringed
the edges of various objects with the entire color spectrum.
At a depth of ten meters, we walked amid a swarm of small fish from
every species, more numerous than birds in the air, more agile too;
but no aquatic game worthy of a gunshot had yet been offered
to our eyes.
Just then I saw the captain's weapon spring to his shoulder
and track a moving object through the bushes. A shot went off,
I heard a faint hissing, and an animal dropped a few paces away,
literally struck by lightning.
It was a magnificent sea otter from the genus Enhydra, the only
exclusively marine quadruped. One and a half meters long, this otter
had to be worth a good high price. Its coat, chestnut brown above and
silver below, would have made one of those wonderful fur pieces so much
in demand in the Russian and Chinese markets; the fineness and luster
of its pelt guaranteed that it would go for at least 2,000 francs.
I was full of wonderment at this unusual mammal, with its circular
head adorned by short ears, its round eyes, its white whiskers
like those on a cat, its webbed and clawed feet, its bushy tail.
Hunted and trapped by fishermen, this valuable carnivore has become
extremely rare, and it takes refuge chiefly in the northernmost
parts of the Pacific, where in all likelihood its species will soon
be facing extinction.
Captain Nemo's companion picked up the animal, loaded it on his shoulder,
and we took to the trail again.
For an hour plains of sand unrolled before our steps.
Often the seafloor rose to within two meters of the surface of the water.
I could then see our images clearly mirrored on the underside
of the waves, but reflected upside down: above us there appeared
an identical band that duplicated our every movement and gesture;
in short, a perfect likeness of the quartet near which it walked,
but with heads down and feet in the air.
Another unusual effect. Heavy clouds passed above us, forming and
fading swiftly. But after thinking it over, I realized that these
so-called clouds were caused simply by the changing densities of
the long ground swells, and I even spotted the foaming "white caps"
that their breaking crests were proliferating over the surface
of the water. Lastly, I couldn't help seeing the actual shadows
of large birds passing over our heads, swiftly skimming the surface
of the sea.
On this occasion I witnessed one of the finest gunshots ever to
thrill the marrow of a hunter. A large bird with a wide wingspan,
quite clearly visible, approached and hovered over us. When it was just a
few meters above the waves, Captain Nemo's companion took aim and fired.
The animal dropped, electrocuted, and its descent brought it within
reach of our adroit hunter, who promptly took possession of it.
It was an albatross of the finest species, a wonderful specimen
of these open-sea fowl.
This incident did not interrupt our walk. For two hours we were
sometimes led over plains of sand, sometimes over prairies of seaweed
that were quite arduous to cross. In all honesty, I was dead tired
by the time I spotted a hazy glow half a mile away, cutting through
the darkness of the waters. It was the Nautilus's beacon.
Within twenty minutes we would be on board, and there I could
breathe easy again--because my tank's current air supply seemed
to be quite low in oxygen. But I was reckoning without an encounter
that slightly delayed our arrival.
I was lagging behind some twenty paces when I saw Captain Nemo suddenly
come back toward me. With his powerful hands he sent me buckling
to the ground, while his companion did the same to Conseil. At first I
didn't know what to make of this sudden assault, but I was reassured
to observe the captain lying motionless beside me.
I was stretched out on the seafloor directly beneath some bushes of algae,
when I raised my head and spied two enormous masses hurtling by,
throwing off phosphorescent glimmers.