Tantissimi classici della letteratura e della cultura politica,
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Abbe Prevost - MANON LESCAUT
Alcott, Louisa M. - AN OLDFASHIONED GIRL
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE MEN
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE WOMEN
Alcott, Louisa May - JACK AND JILL
Alcott, Louisa May - LIFE LETTERS AND JOURNALS
Andersen, Hans Christian - FAIRY TALES
Anonimo - BEOWULF
Ariosto, Ludovico - ORLANDO ENRAGED
Aurelius, Marcus - MEDITATIONS
Austen, Jane - EMMA
Austen, Jane - MANSFIELD PARK
Austen, Jane - NORTHANGER ABBEY
Austen, Jane - PERSUASION
Austen, Jane - PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Austen, Jane - SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
Authors, Various - LETTERS OF ABELARD AND HELOISE
Authors, Various - SELECTED ENGLISH LETTERS
Autori Vari - THE WORLD ENGLISH BIBLE
Bacon, Francis - THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING
Balzac, Honore de - EUGENIE GRANDET
Balzac, Honore de - FATHER GORIOT
Baroness Orczy - THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
Barrie, J. M. - PETER AND WENDY
Barrie, James M. - PETER PAN
Bierce, Ambrose - THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
Blake, William - SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE
Boccaccio, Giovanni - DECAMERONE
Brent, Linda - INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL
Bronte, Charlotte - JANE EYRE
Bronte, Charlotte - VILLETTE
Buchan, John - GREENMANTLE
Buchan, John - MR STANDFAST
Buchan, John - THE 39 STEPS
Bunyan, John - THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
Burckhardt, Jacob - THE CIVILIZATION OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
Burnett, Frances H. - A LITTLE PRINCESS
Burnett, Frances H. - LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY
Burnett, Frances H. - THE SECRET GARDEN
Butler, Samuel - EREWHON
Carlyle, Thomas - PAST AND PRESENT
Carlyle, Thomas - THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Cellini, Benvenuto - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Cervantes - DON QUIXOTE
Chaucer, Geoffrey - THE CANTERBURY TALES
Chesterton, G. K. - A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND
Chesterton, G. K. - THE BALLAD OF THE WHITE HORSE
Chesterton, G. K. - THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
Chesterton, G. K. - THE WISDOM OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - TWELVE TYPES
Chesterton, G. K. - WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA
Chesterton, Gilbert K. - HERETICS
Chopin, Kate - AT FAULT
Chopin, Kate - BAYOU FOLK
Chopin, Kate - THE AWAKENING AND SELECTED SHORT STORIES
Clark Hall, John R. - A CONCISE ANGLOSAXON DICTIONARY
Clarkson, Thomas - AN ESSAY ON THE SLAVERY AND COMMERCE OF THE HUMAN SPECIES
Clausewitz, Carl von - ON WAR
Coleridge, Herbert - A DICTIONARY OF THE FIRST OR OLDEST WORDS IN THE ENGLISH
Coleridge, S. T. - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Coleridge, S. T. - HINTS TOWARDS THE FORMATION OF A MORE COMPREHENSIVE THEORY
Coleridge, S. T. - THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
Collins, Wilkie - THE MOONSTONE
Collodi - PINOCCHIO
Conan Doyle, Arthur - A STUDY IN SCARLET
Conan Doyle, Arthur - MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE SIGN OF THE FOUR
Conrad, Joseph - HEART OF DARKNESS
Conrad, Joseph - LORD JIM
Conrad, Joseph - NOSTROMO
Conrad, Joseph - THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS
Conrad, Joseph - TYPHOON
Crane, Stephen - LAST WORDS
Crane, Stephen - MAGGIE
Crane, Stephen - THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
Crane, Stephen - WOUNDS IN THE RAIN
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: HELL
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PARADISE
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PURGATORY
Darwin, Charles - THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES DARWIN
Darwin, Charles - THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
Defoe, Daniel - A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE PYRATES
Defoe, Daniel - A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR
Defoe, Daniel - CAPTAIN SINGLETON
Defoe, Daniel - MOLL FLANDERS
Defoe, Daniel - ROBINSON CRUSOE
Defoe, Daniel - THE COMPLETE ENGLISH TRADESMAN
Defoe, Daniel - THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE
Deledda, Grazia - AFTER THE DIVORCE
Dickens, Charles - A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Dickens, Charles - A TALE OF TWO CITIES
Dickens, Charles - BLEAK HOUSE
Dickens, Charles - DAVID COPPERFIELD
Dickens, Charles - DONBEY AND SON
Dickens, Charles - GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Dickens, Charles - HARD TIMES
Dickens, Charles - LETTERS VOLUME 1
Dickens, Charles - LITTLE DORRIT
Dickens, Charles - MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT
Dickens, Charles - NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
Dickens, Charles - OLIVER TWIST
Dickens, Charles - OUR MUTUAL FRIEND
Dickens, Charles - PICTURES FROM ITALY
Dickens, Charles - THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD
Dickens, Charles - THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP
Dickens, Charles - THE PICKWICK PAPERS
Dickinson, Emily - POEMS
Dostoevsky, Fyodor - CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
Du Maurier, George - TRILBY
Dumas, Alexandre - THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
Dumas, Alexandre - THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
Dumas, Alexandre - THE THREE MUSKETEERS
Eliot, George - DANIEL DERONDA
Eliot, George - MIDDLEMARCH
Eliot, George - SILAS MARNER
Eliot, George - THE MILL ON THE FLOSS
Engels, Frederick - THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING-CLASS IN ENGLAND IN 1844
Equiano - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Esopo - FABLES
Fenimore Cooper, James - THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
Fielding, Henry - TOM JONES
France, Anatole - THAIS
France, Anatole - THE GODS ARE ATHIRST
France, Anatole - THE LIFE OF JOAN OF ARC
France, Anatole - THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD
Frank Baum, L. - THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ
Frank Baum, L. - THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
Franklin, Benjamin - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Frazer, James George - THE GOLDEN BOUGH
Freud, Sigmund - DREAM PSYCHOLOGY
Galsworthy, John - COMPLETE PLAYS
Galsworthy, John - STRIFE
Galsworthy, John - STUDIES AND ESSAYS
Galsworthy, John - THE FIRST AND THE LAST
Galsworthy, John - THE FORSYTE SAGA
Galsworthy, John - THE LITTLE MAN
Galsworthy, John - THE SILVER BOX
Galsworthy, John - THE SKIN GAME
Gaskell, Elizabeth - CRANFORD
Gaskell, Elizabeth - MARY BARTON
Gaskell, Elizabeth - NORTH AND SOUTH
Gaskell, Elizabeth - THE LIFE OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE
Gay, John - THE BEGGAR'S OPERA
Gentile, Maria - THE ITALIAN COOK BOOK
Gilbert and Sullivan - PLAYS
Goethe - FAUST
Gogol - DEAD SOULS
Goldsmith, Oliver - SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
Goldsmith, Oliver - THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD
Grahame, Kenneth - THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Grimm, Brothers - FAIRY TALES
Harding, A. R. - GINSENG AND OTHER MEDICINAL PLANTS
Hardy, Thomas - A CHANGED MAN AND OTHER TALES
Hardy, Thomas - FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
Hardy, Thomas - JUDE THE OBSCURE
Hardy, Thomas - TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES
Hardy, Thomas - THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE
Hartley, Cecil B. - THE GENTLEMEN'S BOOK OF ETIQUETTE
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - LITTLE MASTERPIECES
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - THE SCARLET LETTER
Henry VIII - LOVE LETTERS TO ANNE BOLEYN
Henry, O. - CABBAGES AND KINGS
Henry, O. - SIXES AND SEVENS
Henry, O. - THE FOUR MILLION
Henry, O. - THE TRIMMED LAMP
Henry, O. - WHIRLIGIGS
Hindman Miller, Gustavus - TEN THOUSAND DREAMS INTERPRETED
Hobbes, Thomas - LEVIATHAN
Homer - THE ILIAD
Homer - THE ODYSSEY
Hornaday, William T. - THE EXTERMINATION OF THE AMERICAN BISON
Hume, David - A TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE
Hume, David - AN ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
Hume, David - DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION
Ibsen, Henrik - A DOLL'S HOUSE
Ibsen, Henrik - AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
Ibsen, Henrik - GHOSTS
Ibsen, Henrik - HEDDA GABLER
Ibsen, Henrik - JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN
Ibsen, Henrik - ROSMERHOLM
Ibsen, Henrik - THE LADY FROM THE SEA
Ibsen, Henrik - THE MASTER BUILDER
Ibsen, Henrik - WHEN WE DEAD AWAKEN
Irving, Washington - THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
James, Henry - ITALIAN HOURS
James, Henry - THE ASPERN PAPERS
James, Henry - THE BOSTONIANS
James, Henry - THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY
James, Henry - THE TURN OF THE SCREW
James, Henry - WASHINGTON SQUARE
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN IN A BOAT
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN ON THE BUMMEL
Jevons, Stanley - POLITICAL ECONOMY
Johnson, Samuel - A GRAMMAR OF THE ENGLISH TONGUE
Jonson, Ben - THE ALCHEMIST
Jonson, Ben - VOLPONE
Joyce, James - A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN
Joyce, James - CHAMBER MUSIC
Joyce, James - DUBLINERS
Joyce, James - ULYSSES
Keats, John - ENDYMION
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1817
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1820
King James - THE BIBLE
Kipling, Rudyard - CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
Kipling, Rudyard - INDIAN TALES
Kipling, Rudyard - JUST SO STORIES
Kipling, Rudyard - KIM
Kipling, Rudyard - THE JUNGLE BOOK
Kipling, Rudyard - THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Kipling, Rudyard - THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK
Lawrence, D. H - THE RAINBOW
Lawrence, D. H - THE WHITE PEACOCK
Lawrence, D. H - TWILIGHT IN ITALY
Lawrence, D. H. - AARON'S ROD
Lawrence, D. H. - SONS AND LOVERS
Lawrence, D. H. - THE LOST GIRL
Lawrence, D. H. - WOMEN IN LOVE
Lear, Edward - BOOK OF NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - LAUGHABLE LYRICS
Lear, Edward - MORE NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - NONSENSE SONG
Leblanc, Maurice - ARSENE LUPIN VS SHERLOCK HOLMES
Leblanc, Maurice - THE ADVENTURES OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE CONFESSIONS OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE HOLLOW NEEDLE
Leblanc, Maurice - THE RETURN OF ARSENE LUPIN
Lehmann, Lilli - HOW TO SING
Leroux, Gaston - THE MAN WITH THE BLACK FEATHER
Leroux, Gaston - THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW ROOM
Leroux, Gaston - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
London, Jack - MARTIN EDEN
London, Jack - THE CALL OF THE WILD
London, Jack - WHITE FANG
Machiavelli, Nicolo' - THE PRINCE
Malthus, Thomas - PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION
Mansfield, Katherine - THE GARDEN PARTY AND OTHER STORIES
Marlowe, Christopher - THE JEW OF MALTA
Marryat, Captain - THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST
Maupassant, Guy De - BEL AMI
Melville, Hermann - MOBY DICK
Melville, Hermann - TYPEE
Mill, John Stuart - PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
Milton, John - PARADISE LOST
Mitra, S. M. - HINDU TALES FROM THE SANSKRIT
Montaigne, Michel de - ESSAYS
Montgomery, Lucy Maud - ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
More, Thomas - UTOPIA
Nesbit, E. - FIVE CHILDREN AND IT
Nesbit, E. - THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET
Nesbit, E. - THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
Nesbit, E. - THE STORY OF THE AMULET
Newton, Isaac - OPTICKS
Nietsche, Friedrich - BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
Nietsche, Friedrich - THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA
Nightingale, Florence - NOTES ON NURSING
Owen, Wilfred - POEMS
Ozaki, Yei Theodora - JAPANESE FAIRY TALES
Pascal, Blaise - PENSEES
Pellico, Silvio - MY TEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT
Perrault, Charles - FAIRY TALES
Pirandello, Luigi - THREE PLAYS
Plato - THE REPUBLIC
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 1
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 2
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 3
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 4
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 5
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
Potter, Beatrix - THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT
Proust, Marcel - SWANN'S WAY
Radcliffe, Ann - A SICILIAN ROMANCE
Ricardo, David - ON THE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY AND TAXATION
Richardson, Samuel - PAMELA
Rider Haggard, H. - ALLAN QUATERMAIN
Rider Haggard, H. - KING SOLOMON'S MINES
Rousseau, J. J. - THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDATION OF INEQUALITY AMONG MANKIND
Ruskin, John - THE SEVEN LAMPS OF ARCHITECTURE
Schiller, Friedrich - THE DEATH OF WALLENSTEIN
Schiller, Friedrich - THE PICCOLOMINI
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE ART OF CONTROVERSY
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE WISDOM OF LIFE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - FLAPPERS AND PHILOSOPHERS
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THIS SIDE OF PARADISE
Scott, Walter - IVANHOE
Scott, Walter - QUENTIN DURWARD
Scott, Walter - ROB ROY
Scott, Walter - THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR
Scott, Walter - WAVERLEY
Sedgwick, Anne Douglas - THE THIRD WINDOW
Sewell, Anna - BLACK BEAUTY
Shakespeare, William - COMPLETE WORKS
Shakespeare, William - HAMLET
Shakespeare, William - OTHELLO
Shakespeare, William - ROMEO AND JULIET
Shelley, Mary - FRANKENSTEIN
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - A DEFENCE OF POETRY AND OTHER ESSAYS
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Sheridan, Richard B. - THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
Sienkiewicz, Henryk - QUO VADIS
Smith, Adam - THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
Smollett, Tobias - TRAVELS THROUGH FRANCE AND ITALY
Spencer, Herbert - ESSAYS ON EDUCATION AND KINDRED SUBJECTS
Spyri, Johanna - HEIDI
Sterne, Laurence - A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
Sterne, Laurence - TRISTRAM SHANDY
Stevenson, Robert Louis - A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES
Stevenson, Robert Louis - ESSAYS IN THE ART OF WRITING
Stevenson, Robert Louis - KIDNAPPED
Stevenson, Robert Louis - NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE BLACK ARROW
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
Stevenson, Robert Louis - TREASURE ISLAND
Stoker, Bram - DRACULA
Strindberg, August - LUCKY PEHR
Strindberg, August - MASTER OLOF
Strindberg, August - THE RED ROOM
Strindberg, August - THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
Strindberg, August - THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES
Swift, Jonathan - A MODEST PROPOSAL
Swift, Jonathan - A TALE OF A TUB
Swift, Jonathan - GULLIVER'S TRAVELS
Swift, Jonathan - THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS AND OTHER SHORT PIECES
Tagore, Rabindranath - FRUIT GATHERING
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE GARDENER
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE HUNGRY STONES AND OTHER STORIES
Thackeray, William - BARRY LYNDON
Thackeray, William - VANITY FAIR
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE BOOK OF SNOBS
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE ROSE AND THE RING
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE VIRGINIANS
Thoreau, Henry David - WALDEN
Tolstoi, Leo - A LETTER TO A HINDU
Tolstoy, Lev - ANNA KARENINA
Tolstoy, Lev - WAR AND PEACE
Trollope, Anthony - AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Trollope, Anthony - BARCHESTER TOWERS
Trollope, Anthony - FRAMLEY PARSONAGE
Trollope, Anthony - THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS
Trollope, Anthony - THE MAN WHO KEPT HIS MONEY IN A BOX
Trollope, Anthony - THE WARDEN
Trollope, Anthony - THE WAY WE LIVE NOW
Twain, Mark - LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI
Twain, Mark - SPEECHES
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER
Twain, Mark - THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER
Vari, Autori - THE MAGNA CARTA
Verga, Giovanni - SICILIAN STORIES
Verne, Jules - 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS
Verne, Jules - A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Verne, Jules - ALL AROUND THE MOON
Verne, Jules - AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Verne, Jules - FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON
Verne, Jules - FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
Verne, Jules - MICHAEL STROGOFF
Verne, Jules - THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Voltaire - PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY
Vyasa - MAHABHARATA
Wallace, Edgar - SANDERS OF THE RIVER
Wallace, Edgar - THE DAFFODIL MYSTERY
Wallace, Lew - BEN HUR
Webster, Jean - DADDY LONG LEGS
Wedekind, Franz - THE AWAKENING OF SPRING
Wells, H. G. - KIPPS
Wells, H. G. - THE INVISIBLE MAN
Wells, H. G. - THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
Wells, H. G. - THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER INCIDENTS
Wells, H. G. - THE TIME MACHINE
Wells, H. G. - THE WAR OF THE WORLDS
Wells, H. G. - WHAT IS COMING
Wharton, Edith - THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
White, Andrew Dickson - FIAT MONEY INFLATION IN FRANCE
Wilde, Oscar - A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Wilde, Oscar - AN IDEAL HUSBAND
Wilde, Oscar - DE PROFUNDIS
Wilde, Oscar - LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN
Wilde, Oscar - SALOME
Wilde, Oscar - SELECTED POEMS
Wilde, Oscar - THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL
Wilde, Oscar - THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
Wilde, Oscar - THE HAPPY PRINCE AND OTHER TALES
Wilde, Oscar - THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Wilde, Oscar - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY
Wilde, Oscar - THE SOUL OF MAN
Wilson, Epiphanius - SACRED BOOKS OF THE EAST
Wollstonecraft, Mary - A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN
Woolf, Virgina - NIGHT AND DAY
Woolf, Virgina - THE VOYAGE OUT
Woolf, Virginia - JACOB'S ROOM
Woolf, Virginia - MONDAY OR TUESDAY
Wordsworth, William - POEMS
Wordsworth, William - PROSE WORKS
Zola, Emile - THERESE RAQUIN
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TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA
by Jules Verne.
FIRST PART, CHAPTER 1.
A Runaway Reef
THE YEAR 1866 was marked by a bizarre development,
an unexplained and downright inexplicable phenomenon
that surely no one has forgotten. Without getting
into those rumors that upset civilians in the seaports
and deranged the public mind even far inland, it
must be said that professional seamen were especially
alarmed. Traders, shipowners, captains of vessels,
skippers, and master mariners from Europe and America,
naval officers from every country, and at their
heels the various national governments on these
two continents, were all extremely disturbed by
In essence, over a period of time several ships
had encountered "an enormous thing" at sea, a long
spindle-shaped object, sometimes giving off a phosphorescent
glow, infinitely bigger and faster than any whale.
The relevant data on this apparition, as recorded
in various logbooks, agreed pretty closely as to
the structure of the object or creature in question,
its unprecedented speed of movement, its startling
locomotive power, and the unique vitality with which
it seemed to be gifted. If it was a cetacean, it
exceeded in bulk any whale previously classified
by science. No naturalist, neither Cuvier nor Lacépède,
neither Professor Dumeril nor Professor de Quatrefages,
would have accepted the existence of such a monster
sight unseen-- specifically, unseen by their own
Striking an average of observations taken at different
times-- rejecting those timid estimates that gave
the object a length of 200 feet, and ignoring those
exaggerated views that saw it as a mile wide and
three long--you could still assert that this phenomenal
creature greatly exceeded the dimensions of anything
then known to ichthyologists, if it existed at all.
Now then, it did exist, this was an undeniable fact;
and since the human mind dotes on objects of wonder,
you can understand the worldwide excitement caused
by this unearthly apparition. As for relegating
it to the realm of fiction, that charge had to be
In essence, on July 20, 1866, the steamer Governor
Higginson, from the Calcutta & Burnach Steam Navigation
Co., encountered this moving mass five miles off
the eastern shores of Australia.
Captain Baker at first thought he was in the presence
of an unknown reef; he was even about to fix its
exact position when two waterspouts shot out of
this inexplicable object and sprang hissing into
the air some 150 feet. So, unless this reef was
subject to the intermittent eruptions of a geyser,
the Governor Higginson had fair and honest dealings
with some aquatic mammal, until then unknown, that
could spurt from its blowholes waterspouts mixed
with air and steam.
Similar events were likewise observed in Pacific
seas, on July 23 of the same year, by the Christopher
Columbus from the West India & Pacific Steam Navigation
Co. Consequently, this extraordinary cetacean could
transfer itself from one locality to another with
startling swiftness, since within an interval of
just three days, the Governor Higginson and the
Christopher Columbus had observed it at two positions
on the charts separated by a distance of more than
700 nautical leagues.
Fifteen days later and 2,000 leagues farther, the
Helvetia from the Compagnie Nationale and the Shannon
from the Royal Mail line, running on opposite tacks
in that part of the Atlantic lying between the United
States and Europe, respectively signaled each other
that the monster had been sighted in latitude 42
degrees 15' north and longitude 60 degrees 35' west
of the meridian of Greenwich. From their simultaneous
observations, they were able to estimate the mammal's
minimum length at more than 350 English feet;* this
was because both the Shannon and the Helvetia were
of smaller dimensions, although each measured 100
meters stem to stern. Now then, the biggest whales,
those rorqual whales that frequent the waterways
of the Aleutian Islands, have never exceeded a length
of 56 meters--if they reach even that.
*Author's Note: About 106 meters. An English foot
is only 30.4 centimeters.
One after another, reports arrived that would profoundly
affect public opinion: new observations taken by
the transatlantic liner Pereire, the Inman line's
Etna running afoul of the monster, an official report
drawn up by officers on the French frigate Normandy,
dead-earnest reckonings obtained by the general
staff of Commodore Fitz-James aboard the Lord Clyde.
In lighthearted countries, people joked about this
phenomenon, but such serious, practical countries
as England, America, and Germany were deeply concerned.
In every big city the monster was the latest rage;
they sang about it in the coffee houses, they ridiculed
it in the newspapers, they dramatized it in the
theaters. The tabloids found it a fine opportunity
for hatching all sorts of hoaxes. In those newspapers
short of copy, you saw the reappearance of every
gigantic imaginary creature, from "Moby Dick," that
dreadful white whale from the High Arctic regions,
to the stupendous kraken whose tentacles could entwine
a 500-ton craft and drag it into the ocean depths.
They even reprinted reports from ancient times:
the views of Aristotle and Pliny accepting the existence
of such monsters, then the Norwegian stories of
Bishop Pontoppidan, the narratives of Paul Egede,
and finally the reports of Captain Harrington--
whose good faith is above suspicion--in which he
claims he saw, while aboard the Castilian in 1857,
one of those enormous serpents that, until then,
had frequented only the seas of France's old extremist
newspaper, The Constitutionalist.
An interminable debate then broke out between believers
and skeptics in the scholarly societies and scientific
journals. The "monster question" inflamed all minds.
During this memorable campaign, journalists making
a profession of science battled with those making
a profession of wit, spilling waves of ink and some
of them even two or three drops of blood, since
they went from sea serpents to the most offensive
For six months the war seesawed. With inexhaustible
zest, the popular press took potshots at feature
articles from the Geographic Institute of Brazil,
the Royal Academy of Science in Berlin, the British
Association, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington,
D.C., at discussions in The Indian Archipelago,
in Cosmos published by Father Moigno, in Petermann's
Mittheilungen,* and at scientific chronicles in
the great French and foreign newspapers. When the
monster's detractors cited a saying by the botanist
Linnaeus that "nature doesn't make leaps," witty
writers in the popular periodicals parodied it,
maintaining in essence that "nature doesn't make
lunatics," and ordering their contemporaries never
to give the lie to nature by believing in krakens,
sea serpents, "Moby Dicks," and other all-out efforts
from drunken seamen. Finally, in a much-feared satirical
journal, an article by its most popular columnist
finished off the monster for good, spurning it in
the style of Hippolytus repulsing the amorous advances
of his stepmother Phaedra, and giving the creature
its quietus amid a universal burst of laughter.
Wit had defeated science.
*German: "Bulletin." Ed.
During the first months of the year 1867, the question
seemed to be buried, and it didn't seem due for
resurrection, when new facts were brought to the
public's attention. But now it was no longer an
issue of a scientific problem to be solved, but
a quite real and serious danger to be avoided. The
question took an entirely new turn. The monster
again became an islet, rock, or reef, but a runaway
reef, unfixed and elusive.
On March 5, 1867, the Moravian from the Montreal
Ocean Co., lying during the night in latitude 27
degrees 30' and longitude 72 degrees 15', ran its
starboard quarter afoul of a rock marked on no charts
of these waterways. Under the combined efforts of
wind and 400-horsepower steam, it was traveling
at a speed of thirteen knots. Without the high quality
of its hull, the Moravian would surely have split
open from this collision and gone down together
with those 237 passengers it was bringing back from
This accident happened around five o'clock in the
morning, just as day was beginning to break. The
officers on watch rushed to the craft's stern. They
examined the ocean with the most scrupulous care.
They saw nothing except a strong eddy breaking three
cable lengths out, as if those sheets of water had
been violently churned. The site's exact bearings
were taken, and the Moravian continued on course
apparently undamaged. Had it run afoul of an underwater
rock or the wreckage of some enormous derelict ship?
They were unable to say. But when they examined
its undersides in the service yard, they discovered
that part of its keel had been smashed.
This occurrence, extremely serious in itself, might
perhaps have been forgotten like so many others,
if three weeks later it hadn't been reenacted under
identical conditions. Only, thanks to the nationality
of the ship victimized by this new ramming, and
thanks to the reputation of the company to which
this ship belonged, the event caused an immense
No one is unaware of the name of that famous English
shipowner, Cunard. In 1840 this shrewd industrialist
founded a postal service between Liverpool and Halifax,
featuring three wooden ships with 400-horsepower
paddle wheels and a burden of 1,162 metric tons.
Eight years later, the company's assets were increased
by four 650-horsepower ships at 1,820 metric tons,
and in two more years, by two other vessels of still
greater power and tonnage. In 1853 the Cunard Co.,
whose mail-carrying charter had just been renewed,
successively added to its assets the Arabia, the
Persia, the China, the Scotia, the Java, and the
Russia, all ships of top speed and, after the Great
Eastern, the biggest ever to plow the seas. So in
1867 this company owned twelve ships, eight with
paddle wheels and four with propellers.
If I give these highly condensed details, it is
so everyone can fully understand the importance
of this maritime transportation company, known the
world over for its shrewd management. No transoceanic
navigational undertaking has been conducted with
more ability, no business dealings have been crowned
with greater success. In twenty-six years Cunard
ships have made 2,000 Atlantic crossings without
so much as a voyage canceled, a delay recorded,
a man, a craft, or even a letter lost. Accordingly,
despite strong competition from France, passengers
still choose the Cunard line in preference to all
others, as can be seen in a recent survey of official
documents. Given this, no one will be astonished
at the uproar provoked by this accident involving
one of its finest steamers.
On April 13, 1867, with a smooth sea and a moderate
breeze, the Scotia lay in longitude 15 degrees 12'
and latitude 45 degrees 37'. It was traveling at
a speed of 13.43 knots under the thrust of its 1,000-horsepower
engines. Its paddle wheels were churning the sea
with perfect steadiness. It was then drawing 6.7
meters of water and displacing 6,624 cubic meters.
At 4:17 in the afternoon, during a high tea for
passengers gathered in the main lounge, a collision
occurred, scarcely noticeable on the whole, affecting
the Scotia's hull in that quarter a little astern
of its port paddle wheel.
The Scotia hadn't run afoul of something, it had
been fouled, and by a cutting or perforating instrument
rather than a blunt one. This encounter seemed so
minor that nobody on board would have been disturbed
by it, had it not been for the shouts of crewmen
in the hold, who climbed on deck yelling:
"We're sinking! We're sinking!"
At first the passengers were quite frightened, but
Captain Anderson hastened to reassure them. In fact,
there could be no immediate danger. Divided into
seven compartments by watertight bulkheads, the
Scotia could brave any leak with impunity.
Captain Anderson immediately made his way into the
hold. He discovered that the fifth compartment had
been invaded by the sea, and the speed of this invasion
proved that the leak was considerable. Fortunately
this compartment didn't contain the boilers, because
their furnaces would have been abruptly extinguished.
Captain Anderson called an immediate halt, and one
of his sailors dived down to assess the damage.
Within moments they had located a hole two meters
in width on the steamer's underside. Such a leak
could not be patched, and with its paddle wheels
half swamped, the Scotia had no choice but to continue
its voyage. By then it lay 300 miles from Cape Clear,
and after three days of delay that filled Liverpool
with acute anxiety, it entered the company docks.
The engineers then proceeded to inspect the Scotia,
which had been put in dry dock. They couldn't believe
their eyes. Two and a half meters below its waterline,
there gaped a symmetrical gash in the shape of an
isosceles triangle. This breach in the sheet iron
was so perfectly formed, no punch could have done
a cleaner job of it. Consequently, it must have
been produced by a perforating tool of uncommon
toughness-- plus, after being launched with prodigious
power and then piercing four centimeters of sheet
iron, this tool had needed to withdraw itself by
a backward motion truly inexplicable.
This was the last straw, and it resulted in arousing
public passions all over again. Indeed, from this
moment on, any maritime casualty without an established
cause was charged to the monster's account. This
outrageous animal had to shoulder responsibility
for all derelict vessels, whose numbers are unfortunately
considerable, since out of those 3,000 ships whose
losses are recorded annually at the marine insurance
bureau, the figure for steam or sailing ships supposedly
lost with all hands, in the absence of any news,
amounts to at least 200!
Now then, justly or unjustly, it was the "monster"
who stood accused of their disappearance; and since,
thanks to it, travel between the various continents
had become more and more dangerous, the public spoke
up and demanded straight out that, at all cost,
the seas be purged of this fearsome cetacean.
The Pros and Cons
DURING THE PERIOD in which these developments were
occurring, I had returned from a scientific undertaking
organized to explore the Nebraska badlands in the
United States. In my capacity as Assistant Professor
at the Paris Museum of Natural History, I had been
attached to this expedition by the French government.
After spending six months in Nebraska, I arrived
in New York laden with valuable collections near
the end of March. My departure for France was set
for early May. In the meantime, then, I was busy
classifying my mineralogical, botanical, and zoological
treasures when that incident took place with the
I was perfectly abreast of this question, which
was the big news of the day, and how could I not
have been? I had read and reread every American
and European newspaper without being any farther
along. This mystery puzzled me. Finding it impossible
to form any views, I drifted from one extreme to
the other. Something was out there, that much was
certain, and any doubting Thomas was invited to
place his finger on the Scotia's wound.
When I arrived in New York, the question was at
the boiling point. The hypothesis of a drifting
islet or an elusive reef, put forward by people
not quite in their right minds, was completely eliminated.
And indeed, unless this reef had an engine in its
belly, how could it move about with such prodigious
Also discredited was the idea of a floating hull
or some other enormous wreckage, and again because
of this speed of movement.
So only two possible solutions to the question were
left, creating two very distinct groups of supporters:
on one side, those favoring a monster of colossal
strength; on the other, those favoring an "underwater
boat" of tremendous motor power.
Now then, although the latter hypothesis was completely
admissible, it couldn't stand up to inquiries conducted
in both the New World and the Old. That a private
individual had such a mechanism at his disposal
was less than probable. Where and when had he built
it, and how could he have built it in secret?
Only some government could own such an engine of
destruction, and in these disaster-filled times,
when men tax their ingenuity to build increasingly
powerful aggressive weapons, it was possible that,
unknown to the rest of the world, some nation could
have been testing such a fearsome machine. The Chassepot
rifle led to the torpedo, and the torpedo has led
to this underwater battering ram, which in turn
will lead to the world putting its foot down. At
least I hope it will.
But this hypothesis of a war machine collapsed in
the face of formal denials from the various governments.
Since the public interest was at stake and transoceanic
travel was suffering, the sincerity of these governments
could not be doubted. Besides, how could the assembly
of this underwater boat have escaped public notice?
Keeping a secret under such circumstances would
be difficult enough for an individual, and certainly
impossible for a nation whose every move is under
constant surveillance by rival powers.
So, after inquiries conducted in England, France,
Russia, Prussia, Spain, Italy, America, and even
Turkey, the hypothesis of an underwater Monitor
was ultimately rejected.
And so the monster surfaced again, despite the endless
witticisms heaped on it by the popular press, and
the human imagination soon got caught up in the
most ridiculous ichthyological fantasies.
After I arrived in New York, several people did
me the honor of consulting me on the phenomenon
in question. In France I had published a two-volume
work, in quarto, entitled The Mysteries of the Great
Ocean Depths. Well received in scholarly circles,
this book had established me as a specialist in
this pretty obscure field of natural history. My
views were in demand. As long as I could deny the
reality of the business, I confined myself to a
flat "no comment." But soon, pinned to the wall,
I had to explain myself straight out. And in this
vein, "the honorable Pierre Aronnax, Professor at
the Paris Museum," was summoned by The New York
Herald to formulate his views no matter what.
I complied. Since I could no longer hold my tongue,
I let it wag. I discussed the question in its every
aspect, both political and scientific, and this
is an excerpt from the well-padded article I published
in the issue of April 30.
"Therefore," I wrote, "after examining these different
hypotheses one by one, we are forced, every other
supposition having been refuted, to accept the existence
of an extremely powerful marine animal.
"The deepest parts of the ocean are totally unknown
to us. No soundings have been able to reach them.
What goes on in those distant depths? What creatures
inhabit, or could inhabit, those regions twelve
or fifteen miles beneath the surface of the water?
What is the constitution of these animals? It's
almost beyond conjecture.
"However, the solution to this problem submitted
to me can take the form of a choice between two
"Either we know every variety of creature populating
our planet, or we do not.
"If we do not know every one of them, if nature
still keeps ichthyological secrets from us, nothing
is more admissible than to accept the existence
of fish or cetaceans of new species or even new
genera, animals with a basically 'cast-iron' constitution
that inhabit strata beyond the reach of our soundings,
and which some development or other, an urge or
a whim if you prefer, can bring to the upper level
of the ocean for long intervals.
"If, on the other hand, we do know every living
species, we must look for the animal in question
among those marine creatures already cataloged,
and in this event I would be inclined to accept
the existence of a giant narwhale.
"The common narwhale, or sea unicorn, often reaches
a length of sixty feet. Increase its dimensions
fivefold or even tenfold, then give this cetacean
a strength in proportion to its size while enlarging
its offensive weapons, and you have the animal we're
looking for. It would have the proportions determined
by the officers of the Shannon, the instrument needed
to perforate the Scotia, and the power to pierce
a steamer's hull.
"In essence, the narwhale is armed with a sort of
ivory sword, or lance, as certain naturalists have
expressed it. It's a king-sized tooth as hard as
steel. Some of these teeth have been found buried
in the bodies of baleen whales, which the narwhale
attacks with invariable success. Others have been
wrenched, not without difficulty, from the undersides
of vessels that narwhales have pierced clean through,
as a gimlet pierces a wine barrel. The museum at
the Faculty of Medicine in Paris owns one of these
tusks with a length of 2.25 meters and a width at
its base of forty-eight centimeters!
"All right then! Imagine this weapon to be ten times
stronger and the animal ten times more powerful,
launch it at a speed of twenty miles per hour, multiply
its mass times its velocity, and you get just the
collision we need to cause the specified catastrophe.
"So, until information becomes more abundant, I
plump for a sea unicorn of colossal dimensions,
no longer armed with a mere lance but with an actual
spur, like ironclad frigates or those warships called
'rams,' whose mass and motor power it would possess
"This inexplicable phenomenon is thus explained
away--unless it's something else entirely, which,
despite everything that has been sighted, studied,
explored and experienced, is still possible!"
These last words were cowardly of me; but as far
as I could, I wanted to protect my professorial
dignity and not lay myself open to laughter from
the Americans, who when they do laugh, laugh raucously.
I had left myself a loophole. Yet deep down, I had
accepted the existence of "the monster."
My article was hotly debated, causing a fine old
uproar. It rallied a number of supporters. Moreover,
the solution it proposed allowed for free play of
the imagination. The human mind enjoys impressive
visions of unearthly creatures. Now then, the sea
is precisely their best medium, the only setting
suitable for the breeding and growing of such giants--next
to which such land animals as elephants or rhinoceroses
are mere dwarves. The liquid masses support the
largest known species of mammals and perhaps conceal
mollusks of incomparable size or crustaceans too
frightful to contemplate, such as 100-meter lobsters
or crabs weighing 200 metric tons! Why not? Formerly,
in prehistoric days, land animals (quadrupeds, apes,
reptiles, birds) were built on a gigantic scale.
Our Creator cast them using a colossal mold that
time has gradually made smaller. With its untold
depths, couldn't the sea keep alive such huge specimens
of life from another age, this sea that never changes
while the land masses undergo almost continuous
alteration? Couldn't the heart of the ocean hide
the last-remaining varieties of these titanic species,
for whom years are centuries and centuries millennia?
But I mustn't let these fantasies run away with
me! Enough of these fairy tales that time has changed
for me into harsh realities. I repeat: opinion had
crystallized as to the nature of this phenomenon,
and the public accepted without argument the existence
of a prodigious creature that had nothing in common
with the fabled sea serpent.
Yet if some saw it purely as a scientific problem
to be solved, more practical people, especially
in America and England, were determined to purge
the ocean of this daunting monster, to insure the
safety of transoceanic travel. The industrial and
commercial newspapers dealt with the question chiefly
from this viewpoint. The Shipping & Mercantile Gazette,
the Lloyd's List, France's Packetboat and Maritime
& Colonial Review, all the rags devoted to insurance
companies--who threatened to raise their premium
rates-- were unanimous on this point.
Public opinion being pronounced, the States of the
Union were the first in the field. In New York preparations
were under way for an expedition designed to chase
this narwhale. A high-speed frigate, the Abraham
Lincoln, was fitted out for putting to sea as soon
as possible. The naval arsenals were unlocked for
Commander Farragut, who pressed energetically forward
with the arming of his frigate.
But, as it always happens, just when a decision
had been made to chase the monster, the monster
put in no further appearances. For two months nobody
heard a word about it. Not a single ship encountered
it. Apparently the unicorn had gotten wise to these
plots being woven around it. People were constantly
babbling about the creature, even via the Atlantic
Cable! Accordingly, the wags claimed that this slippery
rascal had waylaid some passing telegram and was
making the most of it.
So the frigate was equipped for a far-off voyage
and armed with fearsome fishing gear, but nobody
knew where to steer it. And impatience grew until,
on June 2, word came that the Tampico, a steamer
on the San Francisco line sailing from California
to Shanghai, had sighted the animal again, three
weeks before in the northerly seas of the Pacific.
This news caused intense excitement. Not even a
24-hour breather was granted to Commander Farragut.
His provisions were loaded on board. His coal bunkers
were overflowing. Not a crewman was missing from
his post. To cast off, he needed only to fire and
stoke his furnaces! Half a day's delay would have
been unforgivable! But Commander Farragut wanted
nothing more than to go forth.
I received a letter three hours before the Abraham
Lincoln left its Brooklyn pier;* the letter read
*Author's Note: A pier is a type of wharf expressly
set aside for an individual vessel.
Professor at the Paris Museum
Fifth Avenue Hotel
If you would like to join the expedition on the
Abraham Lincoln, the government of the Union will
be pleased to regard you as France's representative
in this undertaking. Commander Farragut has a cabin
at your disposal.
Very cordially yours,
J. B. HOBSON,
Secretary of the Navy.
As Master Wishes
THREE SECONDS before the arrival of J. B. Hobson's
letter, I no more dreamed of chasing the unicorn
than of trying for the Northwest Passage. Three
seconds after reading this letter from the honorable
Secretary of the Navy, I understood at last that
my true vocation, my sole purpose in life, was to
hunt down this disturbing monster and rid the world
Even so, I had just returned from an arduous journey,
exhausted and badly needing a rest. I wanted nothing
more than to see my country again, my friends, my
modest quarters by the Botanical Gardens, my dearly
beloved collections! But now nothing could hold
me back. I forgot everything else, and without another
thought of exhaustion, friends, or collections,
I accepted the American government's offer.
"Besides," I mused, "all roads lead home to Europe,
and our unicorn may be gracious enough to take me
toward the coast of France! That fine animal may
even let itself be captured in European seas--as
a personal favor to me--and I'll bring back to the
Museum of Natural History at least half a meter
of its ivory lance!"
But in the meantime I would have to look for this
narwhale in the northern Pacific Ocean; which meant
returning to France by way of the Antipodes.
"Conseil!" I called in an impatient voice.
Conseil was my manservant. A devoted lad who went
with me on all my journeys; a gallant Flemish boy
whom I genuinely liked and who returned the compliment;
a born stoic, punctilious on principle, habitually
hardworking, rarely startled by life's surprises,
very skillful with his hands, efficient in his every
duty, and despite his having a name that means "counsel,"
never giving advice-- not even the unsolicited kind!
From rubbing shoulders with scientists in our little
universe by the Botanical Gardens, the boy had come
to know a thing or two. In Conseil I had a seasoned
specialist in biological classification, an enthusiast
who could run with acrobatic agility up and down
the whole ladder of branches, groups, classes, subclasses,
orders, families, genera, subgenera, species, and
varieties. But there his science came to a halt.
Classifying was everything to him, so he knew nothing
else. Well versed in the theory of classification,
he was poorly versed in its practical application,
and I doubt that he could tell a sperm whale from
a baleen whale! And yet, what a fine, gallant lad!
For the past ten years, Conseil had gone with me
wherever science beckoned. Not once did he comment
on the length or the hardships of a journey. Never
did he object to buckling up his suitcase for any
country whatever, China or the Congo, no matter
how far off it was. He went here, there, and everywhere
in perfect contentment. Moreover, he enjoyed excellent
health that defied all ailments, owned solid muscles,
but hadn't a nerve in him, not a sign of nerves--
the mental type, I mean.
The lad was thirty years old, and his age to that
of his employer was as fifteen is to twenty. Please
forgive me for this underhanded way of admitting
I had turned forty.
But Conseil had one flaw. He was a fanatic on formality,
and he only addressed me in the third person--to
the point where it got tiresome.
"Conseil!" I repeated, while feverishly beginning
my preparations for departure.
To be sure, I had confidence in this devoted lad.
Ordinarily, I never asked whether or not it suited
him to go with me on my journeys; but this time
an expedition was at issue that could drag on indefinitely,
a hazardous undertaking whose purpose was to hunt
an animal that could sink a frigate as easily as
a walnut shell! There was good reason to stop and
think, even for the world's most emotionless man.
What would Conseil say?
"Conseil!" I called a third time.
"Did master summon me?" he said, entering.
"Yes, my boy. Get my things ready, get yours ready.
We're departing in two hours."
"As master wishes," Conseil replied serenely.
"We haven't a moment to lose. Pack as much into
my trunk as you can, my traveling kit, my suits,
shirts, and socks, don't bother counting, just squeeze
it all in--and hurry!"
"What about master's collections?" Conseil ventured
"We'll deal with them later."
"What! The archaeotherium, hyracotherium, oreodonts,
cheiropotamus, and master's other fossil skeletons?"
"The hotel will keep them for us."
"What about master's live babirusa?"
"They'll feed it during our absence. Anyhow, we'll
leave instructions to ship the whole menagerie to
"Then we aren't returning to Paris?" Conseil asked.
"Yes, we are . . . certainly . . . ," I replied
evasively, "but after we make a detour."
"Whatever detour master wishes."
"Oh, it's nothing really! A route slightly less
direct, that's all. We're leaving on the Abraham
"As master thinks best," Conseil replied placidly.
"You see, my friend, it's an issue of the monster,
the notorious narwhale. We're going to rid the seas
of it! The author of a two-volume work, in quarto,
on The Mysteries of the Great Ocean Depths has no
excuse for not setting sail with Commander Farragut.
It's a glorious mission but also a dangerous one!
We don't know where it will take us! These beasts
can be quite unpredictable! But we're going just
the same! We have a commander who's game for anything!"
"What master does, I'll do," Conseil replied.
"But think it over, because I don't want to hide
anything from you. This is one of those voyages
from which people don't always come back!"
"As master wishes."
A quarter of an hour later, our trunks were ready.
Conseil did them in a flash, and I was sure the
lad hadn't missed a thing, because he classified
shirts and suits as expertly as birds and mammals.
The hotel elevator dropped us off in the main vestibule
on the mezzanine. I went down a short stair leading
to the ground floor. I settled my bill at that huge
counter that was always under siege by a considerable
crowd. I left instructions for shipping my containers
of stuffed animals and dried plants to Paris, France.
I opened a line of credit sufficient to cover the
babirusa and, Conseil at my heels, I jumped into
For a fare of twenty francs, the vehicle went down
Broadway to Union Square, took Fourth Ave. to its
junction with Bowery St., turned into Katrin St.
and halted at Pier 34. There the Katrin ferry transferred
men, horses, and carriage to Brooklyn, that great
New York annex located on the left bank of the East
River, and in a few minutes we arrived at the wharf
next to which the Abraham Lincoln was vomiting torrents
of black smoke from its two funnels.
Our baggage was immediately carried to the deck
of the frigate. I rushed aboard. I asked for Commander
Farragut. One of the sailors led me to the afterdeck,
where I stood in the presence of a smart-looking
officer who extended his hand to me.
"Professor Pierre Aronnax?" he said to me.
"The same," I replied. "Commander Farragut?"
"In person. Welcome aboard, professor. Your cabin
is waiting for you."
I bowed, and letting the commander attend to getting
under way, I was taken to the cabin that had been
set aside for me.
The Abraham Lincoln had been perfectly chosen and
fitted out for its new assignment. It was a high-speed
frigate furnished with superheating equipment that
allowed the tension of its steam to build to seven
atmospheres. Under this pressure the Abraham Lincoln
reached an average speed of 18.3 miles per hour,
a considerable speed but still not enough to cope
with our gigantic cetacean.
The frigate's interior accommodations complemented
its nautical virtues. I was well satisfied with
my cabin, which was located in the stern and opened
into the officers' mess.
"We'll be quite comfortable here," I told Conseil.
"With all due respect to master," Conseil replied,
"as comfortable as a hermit crab inside the shell
of a whelk."
I left Conseil to the proper stowing of our luggage
and climbed on deck to watch the preparations for
getting under way.
Just then Commander Farragut was giving orders to
cast off the last moorings holding the Abraham Lincoln
to its Brooklyn pier. And so if I'd been delayed
by a quarter of an hour or even less, the frigate
would have gone without me, and I would have missed
out on this unearthly, extraordinary, and inconceivable
expedition, whose true story might well meet with
But Commander Farragut didn't want to waste a single
day, or even a single hour, in making for those
seas where the animal had just been sighted. He
summoned his engineer.
"Are we up to pressure?" he asked the man.
"Aye, sir," the engineer replied.
"Go ahead, then!" Commander Farragut called.
At this order, which was relayed to the engine by
means of a compressed-air device, the mechanics
activated the start-up wheel. Steam rushed whistling
into the gaping valves. Long horizontal pistons
groaned and pushed the tie rods of the drive shaft.
The blades of the propeller churned the waves with
increasing speed, and the Abraham Lincoln moved
out majestically amid a spectator-laden escort of
some 100 ferries and tenders.*
*Author's Note: Tenders are small steamboats that
assist the big liners.
The wharves of Brooklyn, and every part of New York
bordering the East River, were crowded with curiosity
seekers. Departing from 500,000 throats, three cheers
burst forth in succession. Thousands of handkerchiefs
were waving above these tightly packed masses, hailing
Lincoln until it reached the waters of the Hudson
River, at the tip of the long peninsula that forms
New York City.
The frigate then went along the New Jersey coast--the
wonderful right bank of this river, all loaded down
with country homes-- and passed by the forts to
salutes from their biggest cannons. The Abraham
Lincoln replied by three times lowering and hoisting
the American flag, whose thirty-nine stars gleamed
from the gaff of the mizzen sail; then, changing
speed to take the buoy-marked channel that curved
into the inner bay formed by the spit of Sandy Hook,
it hugged this sand-covered strip of land where
thousands of spectators acclaimed us one more time.
The escort of boats and tenders still followed the
frigate and only left us when we came abreast of
the lightship, whose two signal lights mark the
entrance of the narrows to Upper New York Bay.
Three o'clock then sounded. The harbor pilot went
down into his dinghy and rejoined a little schooner
waiting for him to leeward. The furnaces were stoked;
the propeller churned the waves more swiftly; the
frigate skirted the flat, yellow coast of Long Island;
and at eight o'clock in the evening, after the lights
of Fire Island had vanished into the northwest,
we ran at full steam onto the dark waters of the
COMMANDER FARRAGUT was a good seaman, worthy of
the frigate he commanded. His ship and he were one.
He was its very soul. On the cetacean question no
doubts arose in his mind, and he didn't allow the
animal's existence to be disputed aboard his vessel.
He believed in it as certain pious women believe
in the leviathan from the Book of Job--out of faith,
not reason. The monster existed, and he had vowed
to rid the seas of it. The man was a sort of Knight
of Rhodes, a latter-day Sir Dieudonné of Gozo, on
his way to fight an encounter with the dragon devastating
the island. Either Commander Farragut would slay
the narwhale, or the narwhale would slay Commander
Farragut. No middle of the road for these two.
The ship's officers shared the views of their leader.
They could be heard chatting, discussing, arguing,
calculating the different chances of an encounter,
and observing the vast expanse of the ocean. Voluntary
watches from the crosstrees of the topgallant sail
were self-imposed by more than one who would have
cursed such toil under any other circumstances.
As often as the sun swept over its daily arc, the
masts were populated with sailors whose feet itched
and couldn't hold still on the planking of the deck
below! And the Abraham Lincoln's stempost hadn't
even cut the suspected waters of the Pacific.
As for the crew, they only wanted to encounter the
unicorn, harpoon it, haul it on board, and carve
it up. They surveyed the sea with scrupulous care.
Besides, Commander Farragut had mentioned that a
certain sum of $2,000.00 was waiting for the man
who first sighted the animal, be he cabin boy or
sailor, mate or officer. I'll let the reader decide
whether eyes got proper exercise aboard the Abraham
As for me, I didn't lag behind the others and I
yielded to no one my share in these daily observations.
Our frigate would have had fivescore good reasons
for renaming itself the Argus, after that mythological
beast with 100 eyes! The lone rebel among us was
Conseil, who seemed utterly uninterested in the
question exciting us and was out of step with the
general enthusiasm on board.
As I said, Commander Farragut had carefully equipped
his ship with all the gear needed to fish for a
gigantic cetacean. No whaling vessel could have
been better armed. We had every known mechanism,
from the hand-hurled harpoon, to the blunderbuss
firing barbed arrows, to the duck gun with exploding
bullets. On the forecastle was mounted the latest
model breech-loading cannon, very heavy of barrel
and narrow of bore, a weapon that would figure in
the Universal Exhibition of 1867. Made in America,
this valuable instrument could fire a four-kilogram
conical projectile an average distance of sixteen
kilometers without the least bother.
So the Abraham Lincoln wasn't lacking in means of
destruction. But it had better still. It had Ned
Land, the King of Harpooners.
Gifted with uncommon manual ability, Ned Land was
a Canadian who had no equal in his dangerous trade.
Dexterity, coolness, bravery, and cunning were virtues
he possessed to a high degree, and it took a truly
crafty baleen whale or an exceptionally astute sperm
whale to elude the thrusts of his harpoon.
Ned Land was about forty years old. A man of great
height--over six English feet--he was powerfully
built, serious in manner, not very sociable, sometimes
headstrong, and quite ill-tempered when crossed.
His looks caught the attention, and above all the
strength of his gaze, which gave a unique emphasis
to his facial appearance.
Commander Farragut, to my thinking, had made a wise
move in hiring on this man. With his eye and his
throwing arm, he was worth the whole crew all by
himself. I can do no better than to compare him
with a powerful telescope that could double as a
cannon always ready to fire.
To say Canadian is to say French, and as unsociable
as Ned Land was, I must admit he took a definite
liking to me. No doubt it was my nationality that
attracted him. It was an opportunity for him to
speak, and for me to hear, that old Rabelaisian
dialect still used in some Canadian provinces. The
harpooner's family originated in Quebec, and they
were already a line of bold fishermen back in the
days when this town still belonged to France.
Little by little Ned developed a taste for chatting,
and I loved hearing the tales of his adventures
in the polar seas. He described his fishing trips
and his battles with great natural lyricism. His
tales took on the form of an epic poem, and I felt
I was hearing some Canadian Homer reciting his Iliad
of the High Arctic regions.
I'm writing of this bold companion as I currently
know him. Because we've become old friends, united
in that permanent comradeship born and cemented
during only the most frightful crises! Ah, my gallant
Ned! I ask only to live 100 years more, the longer
to remember you!
And now, what were Ned Land's views on this question
of a marine monster? I must admit that he flatly
didn't believe in the unicorn, and alone on board,
he didn't share the general conviction. He avoided
even dealing with the subject, for which one day
I felt compelled to take him to task.
During the magnificent evening of June 25--in other
words, three weeks after our departure--the frigate
lay abreast of Cabo Blanco, thirty miles to leeward
of the coast of Patagonia. We had crossed the Tropic
of Capricorn, and the Strait of Magellan opened
less than 700 miles to the south. Before eight days
were out, the Abraham Lincoln would plow the waves
of the Pacific.
Seated on the afterdeck, Ned Land and I chatted
about one thing and another, staring at that mysterious
sea whose depths to this day are beyond the reach
of human eyes. Quite naturally, I led our conversation
around to the giant unicorn, and I weighed our expedition's
various chances for success or failure. Then, seeing
that Ned just let me talk without saying much himself,
I pressed him more closely.
"Ned," I asked him, "how can you still doubt the
reality of this cetacean we're after? Do you have
any particular reasons for being so skeptical?"
The harpooner stared at me awhile before replying,
slapped his broad forehead in one of his standard
gestures, closed his eyes as if to collect himself,
and finally said:
"Just maybe, Professor Aronnax."
"But Ned, you're a professional whaler, a man familiar
with all the great marine mammals--your mind should
easily accept this hypothesis of an enormous cetacean,
and you ought to be the last one to doubt it under
"That's just where you're mistaken, professor,"
Ned replied. "The common man may still believe in
fabulous comets crossing outer space, or in prehistoric
monsters living at the earth's core, but astronomers
and geologists don't swallow such fairy tales. It's
the same with whalers. I've chased plenty of cetaceans,
I've harpooned a good number, I've killed several.
But no matter how powerful and well armed they were,
neither their tails or their tusks could puncture
the sheet-iron plates of a steamer."
"Even so, Ned, people mention vessels that narwhale
tusks have run clean through."
"Wooden ships maybe," the Canadian replied. "But
I've never seen the like. So till I have proof to
the contrary, I'll deny that baleen whales, sperm
whales, or unicorns can do any such thing."
"Listen to me, Ned--"
"No, no, professor. I'll go along with anything
you want except that. Some gigantic devilfish maybe
. . . ?"
"Even less likely, Ned. The devilfish is merely
a mollusk, and even this name hints at its semiliquid
flesh, because it's Latin meaning soft one. The
devilfish doesn't belong to the vertebrate branch,
and even if it were 500 feet long, it would still
be utterly harmless to ships like the Scotia or
the Abraham Lincoln. Consequently, the feats of
krakens or other monsters of that ilk must be relegated
to the realm of fiction."
"So, Mr. Naturalist," Ned Land continued in a bantering
tone, "you'll just keep on believing in the existence
of some enormous cetacean . . . ?"
"Yes, Ned, I repeat it with a conviction backed
by factual logic. I believe in the existence of
a mammal with a powerful constitution, belonging
to the vertebrate branch like baleen whales, sperm
whales, or dolphins, and armed with a tusk made
of horn that has tremendous penetrating power."
"Humph!" the harpooner put in, shaking his head
with the attitude of a man who doesn't want to be
"Note well, my fine Canadian," I went on, "if such
an animal exists, if it lives deep in the ocean,
if it frequents the liquid strata located miles
beneath the surface of the water, it needs to have
a constitution so solid, it defies all comparison."
"And why this powerful constitution?" Ned asked.
"Because it takes incalculable strength just to
live in those deep strata and withstand their pressure."
"Oh really?" Ned said, tipping me a wink.
"Oh really, and I can prove it to you with a few
"Bosh!" Ned replied. "You can make figures do anything
"In business, Ned, but not in mathematics. Listen
to me. Let's accept that the pressure of one atmosphere
is represented by the pressure of a column of water
thirty-two feet high. In reality, such a column
of water wouldn't be quite so high because here
we're dealing with salt water, which is denser than
fresh water. Well then, when you dive under the
waves, Ned, for every thirty-two feet of water above
you, your body is tolerating the pressure of one
more atmosphere, in other words, one more kilogram
per each square centimeter on your body's surface.
So it follows that at 320 feet down, this pressure
is equal to ten atmospheres, to 100 atmospheres
at 3,200 feet, and to 1,000 atmospheres at 32,000
feet, that is, at about two and a half vertical
leagues down. Which is tantamount to saying that
if you could reach such a depth in the ocean, each
square centimeter on your body's surface would be
experiencing 1,000 kilograms of pressure. Now, my
gallant Ned, do you know how many square centimeters
you have on your bodily surface?"
"I haven't the foggiest notion, Professor Aronnax."
"As many as that?"
"Yes, and since the atmosphere's pressure actually
weighs slightly more than one kilogram per square
centimeter, your 17,000 square centimeters are tolerating
17,568 kilograms at this very moment."
"Without my noticing it?"
"Without your noticing it. And if you aren't crushed
by so much pressure, it's because the air penetrates
the interior of your body with equal pressure. When
the inside and outside pressures are in perfect
balance, they neutralize each other and allow you
to tolerate them without discomfort. But in the
water it's another story."
"Yes, I see," Ned replied, growing more interested.
"Because the water surrounds me but doesn't penetrate
"Precisely, Ned. So at thirty-two feet beneath the
surface of the sea, you'll undergo a pressure of
17,568 kilograms; at 320 feet, or ten times greater
pressure, it's 175,680 kilograms; at 3,200 feet,
or 100 times greater pressure, it's 1,756,800 kilograms;
finally, at 32,000 feet, or 1,000 times greater
pressure, it's 17,568,000 kilograms; in other words,
you'd be squashed as flat as if you'd just been
yanked from between the plates of a hydraulic press!"
"Fire and brimstone!" Ned put in.
"All right then, my fine harpooner, if vertebrates
several hundred meters long and proportionate in
bulk live at such depths, their surface areas make
up millions of square centimeters, and the pressure
they undergo must be assessed in billions of kilograms.
Calculate, then, how much resistance of bone structure
and strength of constitution they'd need in order
to withstand such pressures!"
"They'd need to be manufactured," Ned Land replied,
"from sheet-iron plates eight inches thick, like
"Right, Ned, and then picture the damage such a
mass could inflict if it were launched with the
speed of an express train against a ship's hull."
"Yes . . . indeed . . . maybe," the Canadian replied,
staggered by these figures but still not willing
to give in.
"Well, have I convinced you?"
"You've convinced me of one thing, Mr. Naturalist.
That deep in the sea, such animals would need to
be just as strong as you say-- if they exist."
"But if they don't exist, my stubborn harpooner,
how do you explain the accident that happened to
"It's maybe . . . ," Ned said, hesitating.
"Because . . . it just couldn't be true!" the Canadian
replied, unconsciously echoing a famous catchphrase
of the scientist Arago.
But this reply proved nothing, other than how bullheaded
the harpooner could be. That day I pressed him no
further. The Scotia's accident was undeniable. Its
hole was real enough that it had to be plugged up,
and I don't think a hole's existence can be more
emphatically proven. Now then, this hole didn't
make itself, and since it hadn't resulted from underwater
rocks or underwater machines, it must have been
caused by the perforating tool of some animal.
Now, for all the reasons put forward to this point,
I believed that this animal was a member of the
branch Vertebrata, class Mammalia, group Pisciforma,
and finally, order Cetacea. As for the family in
which it would be placed (baleen whale, sperm whale,
or dolphin), the genus to which it belonged, and
the species in which it would find its proper home,
these questions had to be left for later. To answer
them called for dissecting this unknown monster;
to dissect it called for catching it; to catch it
called for harpooning it-- which was Ned Land's
business; to harpoon it called for sighting it--
which was the crew's business; and to sight it called
for encountering it-- which was a chancy business.
FOR SOME WHILE the voyage of the Abraham Lincoln
was marked by no incident. But one circumstance
arose that displayed Ned Land's marvelous skills
and showed just how much confidence we could place
Off the Falkland Islands on June 30, the frigate
came in contact with a fleet of American whalers,
and we learned that they hadn't seen the narwhale.
But one of them, the captain of the Monroe, knew
that Ned Land had shipped aboard the Abraham Lincoln
and asked his help in hunting a baleen whale that
was in sight. Anxious to see Ned Land at work, Commander
Farragut authorized him to make his way aboard the
Monroe. And the Canadian had such good luck that
with a right-and-left shot, he harpooned not one
whale but two, striking the first straight to the
heart and catching the other after a few minutes'
Assuredly, if the monster ever had to deal with
Ned Land's harpoon, I wouldn't bet on the monster.
The frigate sailed along the east coast of South
America with prodigious speed. By July 3 we were
at the entrance to the Strait of Magellan, abreast
of Cabo de las Virgenes. But Commander Farragut
was unwilling to attempt this tortuous passageway
and maneuvered instead to double Cape Horn.
The crew sided with him unanimously. Indeed, were
we likely to encounter the narwhale in such a cramped
strait? Many of our sailors swore that the monster
couldn't negotiate this passageway simply because
"he's too big for it!"
Near three o'clock in the afternoon on July 6, fifteen
miles south of shore, the Abraham Lincoln doubled
that solitary islet at the tip of the South American
continent, that stray rock Dutch seamen had named
Cape Horn after their hometown of Hoorn. Our course
was set for the northwest, and the next day our
frigate's propeller finally churned the waters of
"Open your eyes! Open your eyes!" repeated the sailors
of the Abraham Lincoln.
And they opened amazingly wide. Eyes and spyglasses
(a bit dazzled, it is true, by the vista of $2,000.00)
didn't remain at rest for an instant. Day and night
we observed the surface of the ocean, and those
with nyctalopic eyes, whose ability to see in the
dark increased their chances by fifty percent, had
an excellent shot at winning the prize.
As for me, I was hardly drawn by the lure of money
and yet was far from the least attentive on board.
Snatching only a few minutes for meals and a few
hours for sleep, come rain or come shine, I no longer
left the ship's deck. Sometimes bending over the
forecastle railings, sometimes leaning against the
sternrail, I eagerly scoured that cotton-colored
wake that whitened the ocean as far as the eye could
see! And how many times I shared the excitement
of general staff and crew when some unpredictable
whale lifted its blackish back above the waves.
In an instant the frigate's deck would become densely
populated. The cowls over the companionways would
vomit a torrent of sailors and officers. With panting
chests and anxious eyes, we each would observe the
cetacean's movements. I stared; I stared until I
nearly went blind from a worn-out retina, while
Conseil, as stoic as ever, kept repeating to me
in a calm tone:
"If master's eyes would kindly stop bulging, master
will see farther!"
But what a waste of energy! The Abraham Lincoln
would change course and race after the animal sighted,
only to find an ordinary baleen whale or a common
sperm whale that soon disappeared amid a chorus
However, the weather held good. Our voyage was proceeding
under the most favorable conditions. By then it
was the bad season in these southernmost regions,
because July in this zone corresponds to our January
in Europe; but the sea remained smooth and easily
visible over a vast perimeter.
Ned Land still kept up the most tenacious skepticism;
beyond his spells on watch, he pretended that he
never even looked at the surface of the waves, at
least while no whales were in sight. And yet the
marvelous power of his vision could have performed
yeoman service. But this stubborn Canadian spent
eight hours out of every twelve reading or sleeping
in his cabin. A hundred times I chided him for his
"Bah!" he replied. "Nothing's out there, Professor
Aronnax, and if there is some animal, what chance
would we have of spotting it? Can't you see we're
just wandering around at random? People say they've
sighted this slippery beast again in the Pacific
high seas-- I'm truly willing to believe it, but
two months have already gone by since then, and
judging by your narwhale's personality, it hates
growing moldy from hanging out too long in the same
waterways! It's blessed with a terrific gift for
getting around. Now, professor, you know even better
than I that nature doesn't violate good sense, and
she wouldn't give some naturally slow animal the
ability to move swiftly if it hadn't a need to use
that talent. So if the beast does exist, it's already
I had no reply to this. Obviously we were just groping
blindly. But how else could we go about it? All
the same, our chances were automatically pretty
limited. Yet everyone still felt confident of success,
and not a sailor on board would have bet against
the narwhale appearing, and soon.
On July 20 we cut the Tropic of Capricorn at longitude
105 degrees, and by the 27th of the same month,
we had cleared the equator on the 110th meridian.
These bearings determined, the frigate took a more
decisive westward heading and tackled the seas of
the central Pacific. Commander Farragut felt, and
with good reason, that it was best to stay in deep
waters and keep his distance from continents or
islands, whose neighborhoods the animal always seemed
to avoid--"No doubt," our bosun said, "because there
isn't enough water for him!" So the frigate kept
well out when passing the Tuamotu, Marquesas, and
Hawaiian Islands, then cut the Tropic of Cancer
at longitude 132 degrees and headed for the seas
We were finally in the area of the monster's latest
antics! And in all honesty, shipboard conditions
became life-threatening. Hearts were pounding hideously,
gearing up for futures full of incurable aneurysms.
The entire crew suffered from a nervous excitement
that it's beyond me to describe. Nobody ate, nobody
slept. Twenty times a day some error in perception,
or the optical illusions of some sailor perched
in the crosstrees, would cause intolerable anguish,
and this emotion, repeated twenty times over, kept
us in a state of irritability so intense that a
reaction was bound to follow.
And this reaction wasn't long in coming. For three
months, during which each day seemed like a century,
the Abraham Lincoln plowed all the northerly seas
of the Pacific, racing after whales sighted, abruptly
veering off course, swerving sharply from one tack
to another, stopping suddenly, putting on steam
and reversing engines in quick succession, at the
risk of stripping its gears, and it didn't leave
a single point unexplored from the beaches of Japan
to the coasts of America. And we found nothing!
Nothing except an immenseness of deserted waves!
Nothing remotely resembling a gigantic narwhale,
or an underwater islet, or a derelict shipwreck,
or a runaway reef, or anything the least bit unearthly!
So the reaction set in. At first, discouragement
took hold of people's minds, opening the door to
disbelief. A new feeling appeared on board, made
up of three-tenths shame and seven-tenths fury.
The crew called themselves "out-and-out fools" for
being hoodwinked by a fairy tale, then grew steadily
more furious! The mountains of arguments amassed
over a year collapsed all at once, and each man
now wanted only to catch up on his eating and sleeping,
to make up for the time he had so stupidly sacrificed.
With typical human fickleness, they jumped from
one extreme to the other. Inevitably, the most enthusiastic
supporters of the undertaking became its most energetic
opponents. This reaction mounted upward from the
bowels of the ship, from the quarters of the bunker
hands to the messroom of the general staff; and
for certain, if it hadn't been for Commander Farragut's
characteristic stubbornness, the frigate would ultimately
have put back to that cape in the south.
But this futile search couldn't drag on much longer.
The Abraham Lincoln had done everything it could
to succeed and had no reason to blame itself. Never
had the crew of an American naval craft shown more
patience and zeal; they weren't responsible for
this failure; there was nothing to do but go home.
A request to this effect was presented to the commander.
The commander stood his ground. His sailors couldn't
hide their discontent, and their work suffered because
of it. I'm unwilling to say that there was mutiny
on board, but after a reasonable period of intransigence,
Commander Farragut, like Christopher Columbus before
him, asked for a grace period of just three days
more. After this three-day delay, if the monster
hadn't appeared, our helmsman would give three turns
of the wheel, and the Abraham Lincoln would chart
a course toward European seas.
This promise was given on November 2. It had the
immediate effect of reviving the crew's failing
spirits. The ocean was observed with renewed care.
Each man wanted one last look with which to sum
up his experience. Spyglasses functioned with feverish
energy. A supreme challenge had been issued to the
giant narwhale, and the latter had no acceptable
excuse for ignoring this Summons to Appear!
Two days passed. The Abraham Lincoln stayed at half
steam. On the offchance that the animal might be
found in these waterways, a thousand methods were
used to spark its interest or rouse it from its
apathy. Enormous sides of bacon were trailed in
our wake, to the great satisfaction, I must say,
of assorted sharks. While the Abraham Lincoln heaved
to, its longboats radiated in every direction around
it and didn't leave a single point of the sea unexplored.
But the evening of November 4 arrived with this
underwater mystery still unsolved.
At noon the next day, November 5, the agreed-upon
delay expired. After a position fix, true to his
promise, Commander Farragut would have to set his
course for the southeast and leave the northerly
regions of the Pacific decisively behind.
By then the frigate lay in latitude 31 degrees 15'
north and longitude 136 degrees 42' east. The shores
of Japan were less than 200 miles to our leeward.
Night was coming on. Eight o'clock had just struck.
Huge clouds covered the moon's disk, then in its
first quarter. The sea undulated placidly beneath
the frigate's stempost.
Just then I was in the bow, leaning over the starboard
rail. Conseil, stationed beside me, stared straight
ahead. Roosting in the shrouds, the crew examined
the horizon, which shrank and darkened little by
little. Officers were probing the increasing gloom
with their night glasses. Sometimes the murky ocean
sparkled beneath moonbeams that darted between the
fringes of two clouds. Then all traces of light
vanished into the darkness.
Observing Conseil, I discovered that, just barely,
the gallant lad had fallen under the general influence.
At least so I thought. Perhaps his nerves were twitching
with curiosity for the first time in history.
"Come on, Conseil!" I told him. "Here's your last
chance to pocket that $2,000.00!"
"If master will permit my saying so," Conseil replied,
"I never expected to win that prize, and the Union
government could have promised $100,000.00 and been
none the poorer."
"You're right, Conseil, it turned out to be a foolish
business after all, and we jumped into it too hastily.
What a waste of time, what a futile expense of emotion!
Six months ago we could have been back in France--"
"In master's little apartment," Conseil answered.
"In master's museum! And by now I would have classified
master's fossils. And master's babirusa would be
ensconced in its cage at the zoo in the Botanical
Gardens, and it would have attracted every curiosity
seeker in town!"
"Quite so, Conseil, and what's more, I imagine that
people will soon be poking fun at us!"
"To be sure," Conseil replied serenely, "I do think
they'll have fun at master's expense. And must it
be said . . . ?"
"It must be said, Conseil."
"Well then, it will serve master right!"
"When one has the honor of being an expert as master
is, one mustn't lay himself open to--"
Conseil didn't have time to complete the compliment.
In the midst of the general silence, a voice became
audible. It was Ned Land's voice, and it shouted:
"Ahoy! There's the thing in question, abreast of
us to leeward!"
At Full Steam
AT THIS SHOUT the entire crew rushed toward the
harpooner-- commander, officers, mates,
sailors, cabin boys, down to engineers leaving their
machinery and stokers neglecting their furnaces.
The order was given to stop, and the frigate merely
By then the darkness was profound, and as good as
the Canadian's eyes were, I still wondered how he
could see--and what he had seen. My heart was pounding
fit to burst.
But Ned Land was not mistaken, and we all spotted
the object his hand was indicating.
Two cable lengths off the Abraham Lincoln's starboard
quarter, the sea seemed to be lit up from underneath.
This was no mere phosphorescent phenomenon, that
much was unmistakable. Submerged some fathoms below
the surface of the water, the monster gave off that
very intense but inexplicable glow that several
captains had mentioned in their reports. This magnificent
radiance had to come from some force with a great
illuminating capacity. The edge of its light swept
over the sea in an immense, highly elongated oval,
condensing at the center into a blazing core whose
unbearable glow diminished by degrees outward.
"It's only a cluster of phosphorescent particles!"
exclaimed one of the officers.
"No, sir," I answered with conviction. "Not even
angel-wing clams or salps have ever given off such
a powerful light. That glow is basically electric
in nature. Besides . . . look, look! It's shifting!
It's moving back and forth! It's darting at us!"
A universal shout went up from the frigate.
"Quiet!" Commander Farragut said. "Helm hard to
leeward! Reverse engines!"
Sailors rushed to the helm, engineers to their machinery.
Under reverse steam immediately, the Abraham Lincoln
beat to port, sweeping in a semicircle.
"Right your helm! Engines forward!" Commander Farragut
These orders were executed, and the frigate swiftly
retreated from this core of light.
My mistake. It wanted to retreat, but the unearthly
animal came at us with a speed double our own.
We gasped. More stunned than afraid, we stood mute
and motionless. The animal caught up with us, played
with us. It made a full circle around the frigate--then
doing fourteen knots--and wrapped us in sheets of
electricity that were like luminous dust. Then it
retreated two or three miles, leaving a phosphorescent
trail comparable to those swirls of steam that shoot
behind the locomotive of an express train. Suddenly,
all the way from the dark horizon where it had gone
to gather momentum, the monster abruptly dashed
toward the Abraham Lincoln with frightening speed,
stopped sharply twenty feet from our side plates,
and died out-- not by diving under the water, since
its glow did not recede gradually-- but all at once,
as if the source of this brilliant emanation had
suddenly dried up. Then it reappeared on the other
side of the ship, either by circling around us or
by gliding under our hull. At any instant a collision
could have occurred that would have been fatal to
Meanwhile I was astonished at the frigate's maneuvers.
It was fleeing, not fighting. Built to pursue, it
was being pursued, and I commented on this to Commander
Farragut. His face, ordinarily so emotionless, was
stamped with indescribable astonishment.
"Professor Aronnax," he answered me, "I don't know
what kind of fearsome creature I'm up against, and
I don't want my frigate running foolish risks in
all this darkness. Besides, how should we attack
this unknown creature, how should we defend ourselves
against it? Let's wait for daylight, and then we'll
play a different role."
"You've no further doubts, commander, as to the
nature of this animal?"
"No, sir, it's apparently a gigantic narwhale, and
an electric one to boot."
"Maybe," I added, "it's no more approachable than
an electric eel or an electric ray!"
"Right," the commander replied. "And if it has their
power to electrocute, it's surely the most dreadful
animal ever conceived by our Creator. That's why
I'll keep on my guard, sir."
The whole crew stayed on their feet all night long.
No one even thought of sleeping. Unable to compete
with the monster's speed, the Abraham Lincoln slowed
down and stayed at half steam. For its part, the
narwhale mimicked the frigate, simply rode with
the waves, and seemed determined not to forsake
the field of battle.
However, near midnight it disappeared, or to use
a more appropriate expression, "it went out," like
a huge glowworm. Had it fled from us? We were duty
bound to fear so rather than hope so. But at 12:53
in the morning, a deafening hiss became audible,
resembling the sound made by a waterspout expelled
with tremendous intensity.
By then Commander Farragut, Ned Land, and I were
on the afterdeck, peering eagerly into the profound
"Ned Land," the commander asked, "you've often heard
"Often, sir, but never a whale like this, whose
sighting earned me $2,000.00."
"Correct, the prize is rightfully yours. But tell
me, isn't that the noise cetaceans make when they
spurt water from their blowholes?"
"The very noise, sir, but this one's way louder.
So there can be no mistake. There's definitely a
whale lurking in our waters. With your permission,
sir," the harpooner added, "tomorrow at daybreak
we'll have words with it."
"If it's in a mood to listen to you, Mr. Land,"
I replied in a tone far from convinced.
"Let me get within four harpoon lengths of it,"
the Canadian shot back, "and it had better listen!"
"But to get near it," the commander went on, "I'd
have to put a whaleboat at your disposal?"
"That would be gambling with the lives of my men."
"And with my own!" the harpooner replied simply.
Near two o'clock in the morning, the core of light
reappeared, no less intense, five miles to windward
of the Abraham Lincoln. Despite the distance, despite
the noise of wind and sea, we could distinctly hear
the fearsome thrashings of the animal's tail, and
even its panting breath. Seemingly, the moment this
enormous narwhale came up to breathe at the surface
of the ocean, air was sucked into its lungs like
steam into the huge cylinders of a 2,000-horsepower
"Hmm!" I said to myself. "A cetacean as powerful
as a whole cavalry regiment--now that's a whale
of a whale!"
We stayed on the alert until daylight, getting ready
for action. Whaling gear was set up along the railings.
Our chief officer loaded the blunderbusses, which
can launch harpoons as far as a mile, and long duck
guns with exploding bullets that can mortally wound
even the most powerful animals. Ned Land was content
to sharpen his harpoon, a dreadful weapon in his
At six o'clock day began to break, and with the
dawn's early light, the narwhale's electric glow
disappeared. At seven o'clock the day was well along,
but a very dense morning mist shrank the horizon,
and our best spyglasses were unable to pierce it.
The outcome: disappointment and anger.
I hoisted myself up to the crosstrees of the mizzen
sail. Some officers were already perched on the
At eight o'clock the mist rolled ponderously over
the waves, and its huge curls were lifting little
by little. The horizon grew wider and clearer all
Suddenly, just as on the previous evening, Ned Land's
voice was audible.
"There's the thing in question, astern to port!"
the harpooner shouted.
Every eye looked toward the point indicated.
There, a mile and a half from the frigate, a long
blackish body emerged a meter above the waves. Quivering
violently, its tail was creating a considerable
eddy. Never had caudal equipment thrashed the sea
with such power. An immense wake of glowing whiteness
marked the animal's track, sweeping in a long curve.
Our frigate drew nearer to the cetacean. I examined
it with a completely open mind. Those reports from
the Shannon and the Helvetia had slightly exaggerated
its dimensions, and I put its length at only 250
feet. Its girth was more difficult to judge, but
all in all, the animal seemed to be wonderfully
proportioned in all three dimensions.
While I was observing this phenomenal creature,
two jets of steam and water sprang from its blowholes
and rose to an altitude of forty meters, which settled
for me its mode of breathing. From this I finally
concluded that it belonged to the branch Vertebrata,
class Mammalia, subclass Monodelphia, group Pisciforma,
order Cetacea, family . . . but here I couldn't
make up my mind. The order Cetacea consists of three
families, baleen whales, sperm whales, dolphins,
and it's in this last group that narwhales are placed.
Each of these families is divided into several genera,
each genus into species, each species into varieties.
So I was still missing variety, species, genus,
and family, but no doubt I would complete my classifying
with the aid of Heaven and Commander Farragut.
The crew were waiting impatiently for orders from
their leader. The latter, after carefully observing
the animal, called for his engineer. The engineer
"Sir," the commander said, "are you up to pressure?"
"Aye, sir," the engineer replied.
"Fine. Stoke your furnaces and clap on full steam!"
Three cheers greeted this order. The hour of battle
had sounded. A few moments later, the frigate's
two funnels vomited torrents of black smoke, and
its deck quaked from the trembling of its boilers.
Driven forward by its powerful propeller, the Abraham
Lincoln headed straight for the animal. Unconcerned,
the latter let us come within half a cable length;
then, not bothering to dive, it got up a little
speed, retreated, and was content to keep its distance.
This chase dragged on for about three-quarters of
an hour without the frigate gaining two fathoms
on the cetacean. At this rate, it was obvious that
we would never catch up with it.
Infuriated, Commander Farragut kept twisting the
thick tuft of hair that flourished below his chin.
"Ned Land!" he called.
The Canadian reported at once.
"Well, Mr. Land," the commander asked, "do you still
advise putting my longboats to sea?"
"No, sir," Ned Land replied, "because that beast
won't be caught against its will."
"Then what should we do?"
"Stoke up more steam, sir, if you can. As for me,
with your permission I'll go perch on the bobstays
under the bowsprit, and if we can get within a harpoon
length, I'll harpoon the brute."
"Go to it, Ned," Commander Farragut replied. "Engineer,"
he called, "keep the pressure mounting!"
Ned Land made his way to his post. The furnaces
were urged into greater activity; our propeller
did forty-three revolutions per minute, and steam
shot from the valves. Heaving the log, we verified
that the Abraham Lincoln was going at the rate of
18.5 miles per hour.
But that damned animal also did a speed of 18.5.
For the next hour our frigate kept up this pace
without gaining a fathom! This was humiliating for
one of the fastest racers in the American navy.
The crew were working up into a blind rage. Sailor
after sailor heaved insults at the monster, which
couldn't be bothered with answering back. Commander
Farragut was no longer content simply to twist his
goatee; he chewed on it.
The engineer was summoned once again.
"You're up to maximum pressure?" the commander asked
"Aye, sir," the engineer replied.
"And your valves are charged to . . . ?"
"To six and a half atmospheres."
"Charge them to ten atmospheres."
A typical American order if I ever heard one. It
would have sounded just fine during some Mississippi
paddle-wheeler race, to "outstrip the competition!"
"Conseil," I said to my gallant servant, now at
my side, "you realize that we'll probably blow ourselves
"As master wishes!" Conseil replied.
All right, I admit it: I did wish to run this risk!
The valves were charged. More coal was swallowed
by the furnaces. Ventilators shot torrents of air
over the braziers. The Abraham Lincoln's speed increased.
Its masts trembled down to their blocks, and swirls
of smoke could barely squeeze through the narrow
We heaved the log a second time.
"Well, helmsman?" Commander Farragut asked.
"19.3 miles per hour, sir."
"Keep stoking the furnaces."
The engineer did so. The pressure gauge marked ten
atmospheres. But no doubt the cetacean itself had
"warmed up," because without the least trouble,
it also did 19.3.
What a chase! No, I can't describe the excitement
that shook my very being. Ned Land stayed at his
post, harpoon in hand. Several times the animal
let us approach.
"We're overhauling it!" the Canadian would shout.
Then, just as he was about to strike, the cetacean
would steal off with a swiftness I could estimate
at no less than thirty miles per hour. And even
at our maximum speed, it took the liberty of thumbing
its nose at the frigate by running a full circle
around us! A howl of fury burst from every throat!
By noon we were no farther along than at eight o'clock
in the morning.
Commander Farragut then decided to use more direct
"Bah!" he said. "So that animal is faster than the
Abraham Lincoln. All right, we'll see if it can
outrun our conical shells! Mate, man the gun in
Our forecastle cannon was immediately loaded and
leveled. The cannoneer fired a shot, but his shell
passed some feet above the cetacean, which stayed
half a mile off.
"Over to somebody with better aim!" the commander
shouted. "And $500.00 to the man who can pierce
that infernal beast!"
Calm of eye, cool of feature, an old gray-bearded
gunner-- I can see him to this day--approached the
cannon, put it in position, and took aim for a good
while. There was a mighty explosion, mingled with
cheers from the crew.
The shell reached its target; it hit the animal,
but not in the usual fashion--it bounced off that
rounded surface and vanished into the sea two miles
"Oh drat!" said the old gunner in his anger. "That
rascal must be covered with six-inch armor plate!"
"Curse the beast!" Commander Farragut shouted.
The hunt was on again, and Commander Farragut leaned
over to me, saying:
"I'll chase that animal till my frigate explodes!"
"Yes," I replied, "and nobody would blame you!"
We could still hope that the animal would tire out
and not be as insensitive to exhaustion as our steam
engines. But no such luck. Hour after hour went
by without it showing the least sign of weariness.
However, to the Abraham Lincoln's credit, it must
be said that we struggled on with tireless persistence.
I estimate that we covered a distance of at least
500 kilometers during this ill-fated day of November
6. But night fell and wrapped the surging ocean
in its shadows.
By then I thought our expedition had come to an
end, that we would never see this fantastic animal
again. I was mistaken.
At 10:50 in the evening, that electric light reappeared
three miles to windward of the frigate, just as
clear and intense as the night before.
The narwhale seemed motionless. Was it asleep perhaps,
weary from its workday, just riding with the waves?
This was our chance, and Commander Farragut was
determined to take full advantage of it.
He gave his orders. The Abraham Lincoln stayed at
half steam, advancing cautiously so as not to awaken
its adversary. In midocean it's not unusual to encounter
whales so sound asleep they can successfully be
attacked, and Ned Land had harpooned more than one
in its slumber. The Canadian went to resume his
post on the bobstays under the bowsprit.
The frigate approached without making a sound, stopped
two cable lengths from the animal and coasted. Not
a soul breathed on board. A profound silence reigned
over the deck. We were not 100 feet from the blazing
core of light, whose glow grew stronger and dazzled
Just then, leaning over the forecastle railing,
I saw Ned Land below me, one hand grasping the martingale,
the other brandishing his dreadful harpoon. Barely
twenty feet separated him from the motionless animal.
All at once his arm shot forward and the harpoon
was launched. I heard the weapon collide resonantly,
as if it had hit some hard substance.
The electric light suddenly went out, and two enormous
waterspouts crashed onto the deck of the frigate,
racing like a torrent from stem to stern, toppling
crewmen, breaking spare masts and yardarms from
A hideous collision occurred, and thrown over the
rail with no time to catch hold of it, I was hurled
into the sea.
A Whale of Unknown Species
ALTHOUGH I WAS startled by this unexpected descent,
I at least have a very clear recollection of my
sensations during it.
At first I was dragged about twenty feet under.
I'm a good swimmer, without claiming to equal such
other authors as Byron and Edgar Allan Poe, who
were master divers, and I didn't lose my head on
the way down. With two vigorous kicks of the heel,
I came back to the surface of the sea.
My first concern was to look for the frigate. Had
the crew seen me go overboard? Was the Abraham Lincoln
tacking about? Would Commander Farragut put a longboat
to sea? Could I hope to be rescued?
The gloom was profound. I glimpsed a black mass
disappearing eastward, where its running lights
were fading out in the distance. It was the frigate.
I felt I was done for.
"Help! Help!" I shouted, swimming desperately toward
the Abraham Lincoln.
My clothes were weighing me down. The water glued
them to my body, they were paralyzing my movements.
I was sinking! I was suffocating . . . !
This was the last shout I gave. My mouth was filling
with water. I struggled against being dragged into
the depths. . . .
Suddenly my clothes were seized by energetic hands,
I felt myself pulled abruptly back to the surface
of the sea, and yes, I heard these words pronounced
in my ear:
"If master would oblige me by leaning on my shoulder,
master will swim with much greater ease."
With one hand I seized the arm of my loyal Conseil.
"You!" I said. "You!"
"Myself," Conseil replied, "and at master's command."
"That collision threw you overboard along with me?"
"Not at all. But being in master's employ, I followed
The fine lad thought this only natural!
"What about the frigate?" I asked.
"The frigate?" Conseil replied, rolling over on
his back. "I think master had best not depend on
it to any great extent!"
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that just as I jumped overboard, I heard
the men at the helm shout, 'Our propeller and rudder
are smashed!' "
"Yes, smashed by the monster's tusk! I believe it's
the sole injury the Abraham Lincoln has sustained.
But most inconveniently for us, the ship can no
"Then we're done for!"
"Perhaps," Conseil replied serenely. "However, we
still have a few hours before us, and in a few hours
one can do a great many things!"
Conseil's unflappable composure cheered me up. I
swam more vigorously, but hampered by clothes that
were as restricting as a cloak made of lead, I was
managing with only the greatest difficulty. Conseil
noticed as much.
"Master will allow me to make an incision," he said.
And he slipped an open clasp knife under my clothes,
slitting them from top to bottom with one swift
stroke. Then he briskly undressed me while I swam
for us both.
I then did Conseil the same favor, and we continued
to "navigate" side by side.
But our circumstances were no less dreadful. Perhaps
they hadn't seen us go overboard; and even if they
had, the frigate-- being undone by its rudder--couldn't
return to leeward after us. So we could count only
on its longboats.
Conseil had coolly reasoned out this hypothesis
and laid his plans accordingly. An amazing character,
this boy; in midocean, this stoic lad seemed right
So, having concluded that our sole chance for salvation
lay in being picked up by the Abraham Lincoln's
longboats, we had to take steps to wait for them
as long as possible. Consequently, I decided to
divide our energies so we wouldn't both be worn
out at the same time, and this was the arrangement:
while one of us lay on his back, staying motionless
with arms crossed and legs outstretched, the other
would swim and propel his partner forward. This
towing role was to last no longer than ten minutes,
and by relieving each other in this way, we could
stay afloat for hours, perhaps even until daybreak.
Slim chance, but hope springs eternal in the human
breast! Besides, there were two of us. Lastly, I
can vouch--as improbable as it seems--that even
if I had wanted to destroy all my illusions, even
if I had been willing to "give in to despair," I
could not have done so!
The cetacean had rammed our frigate at about eleven
o'clock in the evening. I therefore calculated on
eight hours of swimming until sunrise. A strenuous
task, but feasible, thanks to our relieving each
other. The sea was pretty smooth and barely tired
us. Sometimes I tried to peer through the dense
gloom, which was broken only by the phosphorescent
flickers coming from our movements. I stared at
the luminous ripples breaking over my hands, shimmering
sheets spattered with blotches of bluish gray. It
seemed as if we'd plunged into a pool of quicksilver.
Near one o'clock in the morning, I was overcome
with tremendous exhaustion. My limbs stiffened in
the grip of intense cramps. Conseil had to keep
me going, and attending to our self-preservation
became his sole responsibility. I soon heard the
poor lad gasping; his breathing became shallow and
quick. I didn't think he could stand such exertions
for much longer.
"Go on! Go on!" I told him.
"Leave master behind?" he replied. "Never! I'll
drown before he does!"
Just then, past the fringes of a large cloud that
the wind was driving eastward, the moon appeared.
The surface of the sea glistened under its rays.
That kindly light rekindled our strength. I held
up my head again. My eyes darted to every point
of the horizon. I spotted the frigate. It was five
miles from us and formed no more than a dark, barely
perceptible mass. But as for longboats, not a one
I tried to call out. What was the use at such a
distance! My swollen lips wouldn't let a single
sound through. Conseil could still articulate a
few words, and I heard him repeat at intervals:
Ceasing all movement for an instant, we listened.
And it may have been a ringing in my ear, from this
organ filling with impeded blood, but it seemed
to me that Conseil's shout had received an answer
"Did you hear that?" I muttered.
And Conseil hurled another desperate plea into space.
This time there could be no mistake! A human voice
had answered us! Was it the voice of some poor devil
left behind in midocean, some other victim of that
collision suffered by our ship? Or was it one of
the frigate's longboats, hailing us out of the gloom?
Conseil made one final effort, and bracing his hands
on my shoulders, while I offered resistance with
one supreme exertion, he raised himself half out
of the water, then fell back exhausted.
"What did you see?"
"I saw . . . ," he muttered, "I saw . . . but we
mustn't talk . . . save our strength . . . !"
What had he seen? Then, lord knows why, the thought
of the monster came into my head for the first time
. . . ! But even so, that voice . . . ? Gone are
the days when Jonahs took refuge in the bellies
Nevertheless, Conseil kept towing me. Sometimes
he looked up, stared straight ahead, and shouted
a request for directions, which was answered by
a voice that was getting closer and closer. I could
barely hear it. I was at the end of my strength;
my fingers gave out; my hands were no help to me;
my mouth opened convulsively, filling with brine;
its coldness ran through me; I raised my head one
last time, then I collapsed. . . .
Just then something hard banged against me. I clung
to it. Then I felt myself being pulled upward, back
to the surface of the water; my chest caved in,
and I fainted. . . .
For certain, I came to quickly, because someone
was massaging me so vigorously it left furrows in
my flesh. I half opened my eyes. . . .
"Conseil!" I muttered.
"Did master ring for me?" Conseil replied.
Just then, in the last light of a moon settling
on the horizon, I spotted a face that wasn't Conseil's
but which I recognized at once.
"Ned!" I exclaimed.
"In person, sir, and still after his prize!" the
"You were thrown overboard after the frigate's collision?"
"Yes, professor, but I was luckier than you, and
right away I was able to set foot on this floating
"Or in other words, on our gigantic narwhale."
"Explain yourself, Ned."
"It's just that I soon realized why my harpoon got
blunted and couldn't puncture its hide."
"Why, Ned, why?"
"Because, professor, this beast is made of boilerplate
At this point in my story, I need to get a grip
on myself, reconstruct exactly what I experienced,
and make doubly sure of everything I write.
The Canadian's last words caused a sudden upheaval
in my brain. I swiftly hoisted myself to the summit
of this half-submerged creature or object that was
serving as our refuge. I tested it with my foot.
Obviously it was some hard, impenetrable substance,
not the soft matter that makes up the bodies of
our big marine mammals.
But this hard substance could have been a bony carapace,
like those that covered some prehistoric animals,
and I might have left it at that and classified
this monster among such amphibious reptiles as turtles
Well, no. The blackish back supporting me was smooth
and polished with no overlapping scales. On impact,
it gave off a metallic sonority, and as incredible
as this sounds, it seemed, I swear, to be made of
No doubts were possible! This animal, this monster,
this natural phenomenon that had puzzled the whole
scientific world, that had muddled and misled the
minds of seamen in both hemispheres, was, there
could be no escaping it, an even more astonishing
phenomenon-- a phenomenon made by the hand of man.
Even if I had discovered that some fabulous, mythological
creature really existed, it wouldn't have given
me such a terrific mental jolt. It's easy enough
to accept that prodigious things can come from our
Creator. But to find, all at once, right before
your eyes, that the impossible had been mysteriously
achieved by man himself: this staggers the mind!
But there was no question now. We were stretched
out on the back of some kind of underwater boat
that, as far as I could judge, boasted the shape
of an immense steel fish. Ned Land had clear views
on the issue. Conseil and I could only line up behind
"But then," I said, "does this contraption contain
some sort of locomotive mechanism, and a crew to
"Apparently," the harpooner replied. "And yet for
the three hours I've lived on this floating island,
it hasn't shown a sign of life."
"This boat hasn't moved at all?"
"No, Professor Aronnax. It just rides with the waves,
but otherwise it hasn't stirred."
"But we know that it's certainly gifted with great
speed. Now then, since an engine is needed to generate
that speed, and a mechanic to run that engine, I
conclude: we're saved."
"Humph!" Ned Land put in, his tone denoting reservations.
Just then, as if to take my side in the argument,
a bubbling began astern of this strange submersible--whose
drive mechanism was obviously a propeller--and the
boat started to move. We barely had time to hang
on to its topside, which emerged about eighty centimeters
above water. Fortunately its speed was not excessive.
"So long as it navigates horizontally," Ned Land
muttered, "I've no complaints. But if it gets the
urge to dive, I wouldn't give $2.00 for my hide!"
The Canadian might have quoted a much lower price.
So it was imperative to make contact with whatever
beings were confined inside the plating of this
machine. I searched its surface for an opening or
a hatch, a "manhole," to use the official term;
but the lines of rivets had been firmly driven into
the sheet-iron joins and were straight and uniform.
Moreover, the moon then disappeared and left us
in profound darkness. We had to wait for daylight
to find some way of getting inside this underwater
So our salvation lay totally in the hands of the
mysterious helmsmen steering this submersible, and
if it made a dive, we were done for! But aside from
this occurring, I didn't doubt the possibility of
our making contact with them. In fact, if they didn't
produce their own air, they inevitably had to make
periodic visits to the surface of the ocean to replenish
their oxygen supply. Hence the need for some opening
that put the boat's interior in contact with the
As for any hope of being rescued by Commander Farragut,
that had to be renounced completely. We were being
swept westward, and I estimate that our comparatively
moderate speed reached twelve miles per hour. The
propeller churned the waves with mathematical regularity,
sometimes emerging above the surface and throwing
phosphorescent spray to great heights.
Near four o'clock in the morning, the submersible
picked up speed. We could barely cope with this
dizzying rush, and the waves battered us at close
range. Fortunately Ned's hands came across a big
mooring ring fastened to the topside of this sheet-iron
back, and we all held on for dear life.
Finally this long night was over. My imperfect memories
won't let me recall my every impression of it. A
single detail comes back to me. Several times, during
various lulls of wind and sea, I thought I heard
indistinct sounds, a sort of elusive harmony produced
by distant musical chords. What was the secret behind
this underwater navigating, whose explanation the
whole world had sought in vain? What beings lived
inside this strange boat? What mechanical force
allowed it to move about with such prodigious speed?
Daylight appeared. The morning mists surrounded
us, but they soon broke up. I was about to proceed
with a careful examination of the hull, whose topside
formed a sort of horizontal platform, when I felt
it sinking little by little.
"Oh, damnation!" Ned Land shouted, stamping his
foot on the resonant sheet iron. "Open up there,
you antisocial navigators!"
But it was difficult to make yourself heard above
the deafening beats of the propeller. Fortunately
this submerging movement stopped.
From inside the boat, there suddenly came noises
of iron fastenings pushed roughly aside. One of
the steel plates flew up, a man appeared, gave a
bizarre yell, and instantly disappeared.
A few moments later, eight strapping fellows appeared
silently, their faces like masks, and dragged us
down into their fearsome machine.
"Mobilis in Mobili"
THIS BRUTALLY EXECUTED capture was carried out with
lightning speed. My companions and I had no time
to collect ourselves. I don't know how they felt
about being shoved inside this aquatic prison, but
as for me, I was shivering all over. With whom were
we dealing? Surely with some new breed of pirates,
exploiting the sea after their own fashion.
The narrow hatch had barely closed over me when
I was surrounded by profound darkness. Saturated
with the outside light, my eyes couldn't make out
a thing. I felt my naked feet clinging to the steps
of an iron ladder. Forcibly seized, Ned Land and
Conseil were behind me. At the foot of the ladder,
a door opened and instantly closed behind us with
a loud clang.
We were alone. Where? I couldn't say, could barely
even imagine. All was darkness, but such utter darkness
that after several minutes, my eyes were still unable
to catch a single one of those hazy gleams that
drift through even the blackest nights.
Meanwhile, furious at these goings on, Ned Land
gave free rein to his indignation.
"Damnation!" he exclaimed. "These people are about
as hospitable as the savages of New Caledonia! All
that's lacking is for them to be cannibals! I wouldn't
be surprised if they were, but believe you me, they
won't eat me without my kicking up a protest!"
"Calm yourself, Ned my friend," Conseil replied
serenely. "Don't flare up so quickly! We aren't
in a kettle yet!"
"In a kettle, no," the Canadian shot back, "but
in an oven for sure. It's dark enough for one. Luckily
my Bowie knife hasn't left me, and I can still see
well enough to put it to use.* The first one of
these bandits who lays a hand on me--"
*Author's Note: A Bowie knife is a wide-bladed dagger
that Americans are forever carrying around.
"Don't be so irritable, Ned," I then told the harpooner,
"and don't ruin things for us with pointless violence.
Who knows whether they might be listening to us?
Instead, let's try to find out where we are!"
I started moving, groping my way. After five steps
I encountered an iron wall made of riveted boilerplate.
Then, turning around, I bumped into a wooden table
next to which several stools had been set. The floor
of this prison lay hidden beneath thick, hempen
matting that deadened the sound of footsteps. Its
naked walls didn't reveal any trace of a door or
window. Going around the opposite way, Conseil met
up with me, and we returned to the middle of this
cabin, which had to be twenty feet long by ten wide.
As for its height, not even Ned Land, with his great
stature, was able to determine it.
Half an hour had already gone by without our situation
changing, when our eyes were suddenly spirited from
utter darkness into blinding light. Our prison lit
up all at once; in other words, it filled with luminescent
matter so intense that at first I couldn't stand
the brightness of it. From its glare and whiteness,
I recognized the electric glow that had played around
this underwater boat like some magnificent phosphorescent
phenomenon. After involuntarily closing my eyes,
I reopened them and saw that this luminous force
came from a frosted half globe curving out of the
"Finally! It's light enough to see!" Ned Land exclaimed,
knife in hand, staying on the defensive.
"Yes," I replied, then ventured the opposite view.
"But as for our situation, we're still in the dark."
"Master must learn patience," said the emotionless
This sudden illumination of our cabin enabled me
to examine its tiniest details. It contained only
a table and five stools. Its invisible door must
have been hermetically sealed. Not a sound reached
our ears. Everything seemed dead inside this boat.
Was it in motion, or stationary on the surface of
the ocean, or sinking into the depths? I couldn't
But this luminous globe hadn't been turned on without
good reason. Consequently, I hoped that some crewmen
would soon make an appearance. If you want to consign
people to oblivion, you don't light up their dungeons.
I was not mistaken. Unlocking noises became audible,
a door opened, and two men appeared.
One was short and stocky, powerfully muscled, broad
shouldered, robust of limbs, the head squat, the
hair black and luxuriant, the mustache heavy, the
eyes bright and penetrating, and his whole personality
stamped with that southern-blooded zest that, in
France, typifies the people of Provence. The philosopher
Diderot has very aptly claimed that a man's bearing
is the clue to his character, and this stocky little
man was certainly a living proof of this claim.
You could sense that his everyday conversation must
have been packed with such vivid figures of speech
as personification, symbolism, and misplaced modifiers.
But I was never in a position to verify this because,
around me, he used only an odd and utterly incomprehensible
The second stranger deserves a more detailed description.
A disciple of such character-judging anatomists
as Gratiolet or Engel could have read this man's
features like an open book. Without hesitation,
I identified his dominant qualities-- self-confidence,
since his head reared like a nobleman's above the
arc formed by the lines of his shoulders, and his
black eyes gazed with icy assurance; calmness, since
his skin, pale rather than ruddy, indicated tranquility
of blood; energy, shown by the swiftly knitting
muscles of his brow; and finally courage, since
his deep breathing denoted tremendous reserves of
I might add that this was a man of great pride,
that his calm, firm gaze seemed to reflect thinking
on an elevated plane, and that the harmony of his
facial expressions and bodily movements resulted
in an overall effect of unquestionable candor--
according to the findings of physiognomists, those
analysts of facial character.
I felt "involuntarily reassured" in his presence,
and this boded well for our interview.
Whether this individual was thirty-five or fifty
years of age, I could not precisely state. He was
tall, his forehead broad, his nose straight, his
mouth clearly etched, his teeth magnificent, his
hands refined, tapered, and to use a word from palmistry,
highly "psychic," in other words, worthy of serving
a lofty and passionate spirit. This man was certainly
the most wonderful physical specimen I had ever
encountered. One unusual detail: his eyes were spaced
a little far from each other and could instantly
take in nearly a quarter of the horizon. This ability--
as I later verified--was strengthened by a range
of vision even greater than Ned Land's. When this
stranger focused his gaze on an object, his eyebrow
lines gathered into a frown, his heavy eyelids closed
around his pupils to contract his huge field of
vision, and he looked! What a look--as if he could
magnify objects shrinking into the distance; as
if he could probe your very soul; as if he could
pierce those sheets of water so opaque to our eyes
and scan the deepest seas . . . !
Wearing caps made of sea-otter fur, and shod in
sealskin fishing boots, these two strangers were
dressed in clothing made from some unique fabric
that flattered the figure and allowed great freedom
The taller of the two--apparently the leader on
board--examined us with the greatest care but without
pronouncing a word. Then, turning to his companion,
he conversed with him in a language I didn't recognize.
It was a sonorous, harmonious, flexible dialect
whose vowels seemed to undergo a highly varied accentuation.
The other replied with a shake of the head and added
two or three utterly incomprehensible words. Then
he seemed to question me directly with a long stare.
I replied in clear French that I wasn't familiar
with his language; but he didn't seem to understand
me, and the situation grew rather baffling.
"Still, master should tell our story," Conseil said
to me. "Perhaps these gentlemen will grasp a few
words of it!"
I tried again, telling the tale of our adventures,
clearly articulating my every syllable, and not
leaving out a single detail. I stated our names
and titles; then, in order, I introduced Professor
Aronnax, his manservant Conseil, and Mr. Ned Land,
The man with calm, gentle eyes listened to me serenely,
even courteously, and paid remarkable attention.
But nothing in his facial expression indicated that
he understood my story. When I finished, he didn't
pronounce a single word.
One resource still left was to speak English. Perhaps
they would be familiar with this nearly universal
language. But I only knew it, as I did the German
language, well enough to read it fluently, not well
enough to speak it correctly. Here, however, our
overriding need was to make ourselves understood.
"Come on, it's your turn," I told the harpooner.
"Over to you, Mr. Land. Pull out of your bag of
tricks the best English ever spoken by an Anglo-Saxon,
and try for a more favorable result than mine."
Ned needed no persuading and started our story all
over again, most of which I could follow. Its content
was the same, but the form differed. Carried away
by his volatile temperament, the Canadian put great
animation into it. He complained vehemently about
being imprisoned in defiance of his civil rights,
asked by virtue of which law he was hereby detained,
invoked writs of habeas corpus, threatened to press
charges against anyone holding him in illegal custody,
ranted, gesticulated, shouted, and finally conveyed
by an expressive gesture that we were dying of hunger.
This was perfectly true, but we had nearly forgotten
Much to his amazement, the harpooner seemed no more
intelligible than I had been. Our visitors didn't
bat an eye. Apparently they were engineers who understood
the languages of neither the French physicist Arago
nor the English physicist Faraday.
Thoroughly baffled after vainly exhausting our philological
resources, I no longer knew what tactic to pursue,
when Conseil told me:
"If master will authorize me, I'll tell the whole
business in German."
"What! You know German?" I exclaimed.
"Like most Flemish people, with all due respect
"On the contrary, my respect is due you. Go to it,
And Conseil, in his serene voice, described for
the third time the various vicissitudes of our story.
But despite our narrator's fine accent and stylish
turns of phrase, the German language met with no
Finally, as a last resort, I hauled out everything
I could remember from my early schooldays, and I
tried to narrate our adventures in Latin. Cicero
would have plugged his ears and sent me to the scullery,
but somehow I managed to pull through. With the
same negative result.
This last attempt ultimately misfiring, the two
strangers exchanged a few words in their incomprehensible
language and withdrew, not even favoring us with
one of those encouraging gestures that are used
in every country in the world. The door closed again.
"This is outrageous!" Ned Land shouted, exploding
for the twentieth time. "I ask you! We speak French,
English, German, and Latin to these rogues, and
neither of them has the decency to even answer back!"
"Calm down, Ned," I told the seething harpooner.
"Anger won't get us anywhere."
"But professor," our irascible companion went on,
"can't you see that we could die of hunger in this
"Bah!" Conseil put in philosophically. "We can hold
out a good while yet!"
"My friends," I said, "we mustn't despair. We've
gotten out of tighter spots. So please do me the
favor of waiting a bit before you form your views
on the commander and crew of this boat."
"My views are fully formed," Ned Land shot back.
"Oh good! And from what country?"
"My gallant Ned, as yet that country isn't clearly
marked on maps of the world, but I admit that the
nationality of these two strangers is hard to make
out! Neither English, French, nor German, that's
all we can say. But I'm tempted to think that the
commander and his chief officer were born in the
low latitudes. There must be southern blood in them.
But as to whether they're Spaniards, Turks, Arabs,
or East Indians, their physical characteristics
don't give me enough to go on. And as for their
speech, it's utterly incomprehensible."
"That's the nuisance in not knowing every language,"
Conseil replied, "or the drawback in not having
one universal language!"
"Which would all go out the window!" Ned Land replied.
"Don't you see, these people have a language all
to themselves, a language they've invented just
to cause despair in decent people who ask for a
little dinner! Why, in every country on earth, when
you open your mouth, snap your jaws, smack your
lips and teeth, isn't that the world's most understandable
message? From Quebec to the Tuamotu Islands, from
Paris to the Antipodes, doesn't it mean: I'm hungry,
give me a bite to eat!"
"Oh," Conseil put in, "there are some people so
unintelligent by nature . . ."
As he was saying these words, the door opened. A
steward entered.* He brought us some clothes, jackets
and sailor's pants, made out of a fabric whose nature
I didn't recognize. I hurried to change into them,
and my companions followed suit.
*Author's Note: A steward is a waiter on board a
Meanwhile our silent steward, perhaps a deaf-mute,
set the table and laid three place settings.
"There's something serious afoot," Conseil said,
"and it bodes well."
"Bah!" replied the rancorous harpooner. "What the
devil do you suppose they eat around here? Turtle
livers, loin of shark, dogfish steaks?"
"We'll soon find out!" Conseil said.
Overlaid with silver dish covers, various platters
had been neatly positioned on the table cloth, and
we sat down to eat. Assuredly, we were dealing with
civilized people, and if it hadn't been for this
electric light flooding over us, I would have thought
we were in the dining room of the Hotel Adelphi
in Liverpool, or the Grand Hotel in Paris. However,
I feel compelled to mention that bread and wine
were totally absent. The water was fresh and clear,
but it was still water--which wasn't what Ned Land
had in mind. Among the foods we were served, I was
able to identify various daintily dressed fish;
but I couldn't make up my mind about certain otherwise
excellent dishes, and I couldn't even tell whether
their contents belonged to the vegetable or the
animal kingdom. As for the tableware, it was elegant
and in perfect taste. Each utensil, spoon, fork,
knife, and plate, bore on its reverse a letter encircled
by a Latin motto, and here is its exact duplicate:
MOBILIS IN MOBILI
Moving within the moving element! It was a highly
appropriate motto for this underwater machine, so
long as the preposition in is translated as within
and not upon. The letter N was no doubt the initial
of the name of that mystifying individual in command
beneath the seas!
Ned and Conseil had no time for such musings. They
were wolfing down their food, and without further
ado I did the same. By now I felt reassured about
our fate, and it seemed obvious that our hosts didn't
intend to let us die of starvation.
But all earthly things come to an end, all things
must pass, even the hunger of people who haven't
eaten for fifteen hours. Our appetites appeased,
we felt an urgent need for sleep. A natural reaction
after that interminable night of fighting for our
"Ye gods, I'll sleep soundly," Conseil said.
"Me, I'm out like a light!" Ned Land replied.
My two companions lay down on the cabin's carpeting
and were soon deep in slumber.
As for me, I gave in less readily to this intense
need for sleep. Too many thoughts had piled up in
my mind, too many insoluble questions had arisen,
too many images were keeping my eyelids open! Where
were we? What strange power was carrying us along?
I felt--or at least I thought I did--the submersible
sinking toward the sea's lower strata. Intense nightmares
besieged me. In these mysterious marine sanctuaries,
I envisioned hosts of unknown animals, and this
underwater boat seemed to be a blood relation of
theirs: living, breathing, just as fearsome . .
. ! Then my mind grew calmer, my imagination melted
into hazy drowsiness, and I soon fell into an uneasy
The Tantrums of Ned Land
I HAVE NO IDEA how long this slumber lasted; but
it must have been a good while, since we were
completely over our exhaustion. I was the first
one to wake up. My companions weren't yet stirring
and still lay in their corners like inanimate objects.
I had barely gotten up from my passably hard mattress
when I felt my mind clear, my brain go on the alert.
So I began a careful reexamination of our cell.
Nothing had changed in its interior arrangements.
The prison was still a prison and its prisoners
still prisoners. But, taking advantage of our slumber,
the steward had cleared the table. Consequently,
nothing indicated any forthcoming improvement in
our situation, and I seriously wondered if we were
doomed to spend the rest of our lives in this cage.
This prospect seemed increasingly painful to me
because, even though my brain was clear of its obsessions
from the night before, I was feeling an odd short-windedness
in my chest. It was becoming hard for me to breathe.
The heavy air was no longer sufficient for the full
play of my lungs. Although our cell was large, we
obviously had used up most of the oxygen it contained.
In essence, over an hour's time a single human being
consumes all the oxygen found in 100 liters of air,
at which point that air has become charged with
a nearly equal amount of carbon dioxide and is no
longer fit for breathing.
So it was now urgent to renew the air in our prison,
and no doubt the air in this whole underwater boat
Here a question popped into my head. How did the
commander of this aquatic residence go about it?
Did he obtain air using chemical methods, releasing
the oxygen contained in potassium chlorate by heating
it, meanwhile absorbing the carbon dioxide with
potassium hydroxide? If so, he would have to keep
up some kind of relationship with the shore, to
come by the materials needed for such an operation.
Did he simply limit himself to storing the air in
high-pressure tanks and then dispense it according
to his crew's needs? Perhaps. Or, proceeding in
a more convenient, more economical, and consequently
more probable fashion, was he satisfied with merely
returning to breathe at the surface of the water
like a cetacean, renewing his oxygen supply every
twenty-four hours? In any event, whatever his method
was, it seemed prudent to me that he use this method
In fact, I had already resorted to speeding up my
inhalations in order to extract from the cell what
little oxygen it contained, when suddenly I was
refreshed by a current of clean air, scented with
a salty aroma. It had to be a sea breeze, life-giving
and charged with iodine! I opened my mouth wide,
and my lungs glutted themselves on the fresh particles.
At the same time, I felt a swaying, a rolling of
moderate magnitude but definitely noticeable. This
boat, this sheet-iron monster, had obviously just
risen to the surface of the ocean, there to breathe
in good whale fashion. So the ship's mode of ventilation
was finally established.
When I had absorbed a chestful of this clean air,
I looked for the conduit--the "air carrier," if
you prefer--that allowed this beneficial influx
to reach us, and I soon found it. Above the door
opened an air vent that let in a fresh current of
oxygen, renewing the thin air in our cell.
I had gotten to this point in my observations when
Ned and Conseil woke up almost simultaneously, under
the influence of this reviving air purification.
They rubbed their eyes, stretched their arms, and
sprang to their feet.
"Did master sleep well?" Conseil asked me with his
perennial good manners.
"Extremely well, my gallant lad," I replied. "And
how about you, Mr. Ned Land?"
"Like a log, professor. But I must be imagining
things, because it seems like I'm breathing a sea
A seaman couldn't be wrong on this topic, and I
told the Canadian what had gone on while he slept.
"Good!" he said. "That explains perfectly all that
bellowing we heard, when our so-called narwhale
lay in sight of the Abraham Lincoln."
"Perfectly, Mr. Land. It was catching its breath!"
"Only I've no idea what time it is, Professor Aronnax,
unless maybe it's dinnertime?"
"Dinnertime, my fine harpooner? I'd say at least
breakfast time, because we've certainly woken up
to a new day."
"Which indicates," Conseil replied, "that we've
spent twenty-four hours in slumber."
"That's my assessment," I replied.
"I won't argue with you," Ned Land answered. "But
dinner or breakfast, that steward will be plenty
welcome whether he brings the one or the other."
"The one and the other," Conseil said.
"Well put," the Canadian replied. "We deserve two
meals, and speaking for myself, I'll do justice
to them both."
"All right, Ned, let's wait and see!" I replied.
"It's clear that these strangers don't intend to
let us die of hunger, otherwise last evening's dinner
wouldn't make any sense."
"Unless they're fattening us up!" Ned shot back.
"I object," I replied. "We have not fallen into
the hands of cannibals."
"Just because they don't make a habit of it," the
Canadian replied in all seriousness, "doesn't mean
they don't indulge from time to time. Who knows?
Maybe these people have gone without fresh meat
for a long while, and in that case three healthy,
well-built specimens like the professor, his manservant,
and me ---"
"Get rid of those ideas, Mr. Land," I answered the
harpooner. "And above all, don't let them lead you
to flare up against our hosts, which would only
make our situation worse."
"Anyhow," the harpooner said, "I'm as hungry as
all Hades, and dinner or breakfast, not one puny
meal has arrived!"
"Mr. Land," I answered, "we have to adapt to the
schedule on board, and I imagine our stomachs are
running ahead of the chief cook's dinner bell."
"Well then, we'll adjust our stomachs to the chef's
timetable!" Conseil replied serenely.
"There you go again, Conseil my friend!" the impatient
Canadian shot back. "You never allow yourself any
displays of bile or attacks of nerves! You're everlastingly
calm! You'd say your after-meal grace even if you
didn't get any food for your before-meal blessing--
and you'd starve to death rather than complain!"
"What good would it do?" Conseil asked.
"Complaining doesn't have to do good, it just feels
good! And if these pirates--I say pirates out of
consideration for the professor's feelings, since
he doesn't want us to call them cannibals-- if these
pirates think they're going to smother me in this
cage without hearing what cusswords spice up my
outbursts, they've got another think coming! Look
here, Professor Aronnax, speak frankly. How long
do you figure they'll keep us in this iron box?"
"To tell the truth, friend Land, I know little more
about it than you do."
"But in a nutshell, what do you suppose is going
"My supposition is that sheer chance has made us
privy to an important secret. Now then, if the crew
of this underwater boat have a personal interest
in keeping that secret, and if their personal interest
is more important than the lives of three men, I
believe that our very existence is in jeopardy.
If such is not the case, then at the first available
opportunity, this monster that has swallowed us
will return us to the world inhabited by our own
"Unless they recruit us to serve on the crew," Conseil
said, "and keep us here--"
"Till the moment," Ned Land answered, "when some
frigate that's faster or smarter than the Abraham
Lincoln captures this den of buccaneers, then hangs
all of us by the neck from the tip of a mainmast
"Well thought out, Mr. Land," I replied. "But as
yet, I don't believe we've been tendered any enlistment
offers. Consequently, it's pointless to argue about
what tactics we should pursue in such a case. I
repeat: let's wait, let's be guided by events, and
let's do nothing, since right now there's nothing
we can do."
"On the contrary, professor," the harpooner replied,
not wanting to give in. "There is something we can
"Oh? And what, Mr. Land?"
"Break out of here!"
"Breaking out of a prison on shore is difficult
enough, but with an underwater prison, it strikes
me as completely unworkable."
"Come now, Ned my friend," Conseil asked, "how would
you answer master's objection? I refuse to believe
that an American is at the end of his tether."
Visibly baffled, the harpooner said nothing. Under
the conditions in which fate had left us, it was
absolutely impossible to escape. But a Canadian's
wit is half French, and Mr. Ned Land made this clear
in his reply.
"So, Professor Aronnax," he went on after thinking
for a few moments, "you haven't figured out what
people do when they can't escape from their prison?"
"No, my friend."
"Easy. They fix things so they stay there."
"Of course!" Conseil put in. "Since we're deep in
the ocean, being inside this boat is vastly preferable
to being above it or below it!"
"But we fix things by kicking out all the jailers,
guards, and wardens," Ned Land added.
"What's this, Ned?" I asked. "You'd seriously consider
taking over this craft?"
"Very seriously," the Canadian replied.
"And why is that, sir? Some promising opportunity
might come up, and I don't see what could stop us
from taking advantage of it. If there are only about
twenty men on board this machine, I don't think
they can stave off two Frenchmen and a Canadian!"
It seemed wiser to accept the harpooner's proposition
than to debate it. Accordingly, I was content to
"Let such circumstances come, Mr. Land, and we'll
see. But until then, I beg you to control your impatience.
We need to act shrewdly, and your flare-ups won't
give rise to any promising opportunities. So swear
to me that you'll accept our situation without throwing
a tantrum over it."
"I give you my word, professor," Ned Land replied
in an unenthusiastic tone. "No vehement phrases
will leave my mouth, no vicious gestures will give
my feelings away, not even when they don't feed
us on time."
"I have your word, Ned," I answered the Canadian.
Then our conversation petered out, and each of us
withdrew into his own thoughts. For my part, despite
the harpooner's confident talk, I admit that I entertained
no illusions. I had no faith in those promising
opportunities that Ned Land mentioned. To operate
with such efficiency, this underwater boat had to
have a sizeable crew, so if it came to a physical
contest, we would be facing an overwhelming opponent.
Besides, before we could do anything, we had to
be free, and that we definitely were not. I didn't
see any way out of this sheet-iron, hermetically
sealed cell. And if the strange commander of this
boat did have a secret to keep-- which seemed rather
likely--he would never give us freedom of movement
aboard his vessel. Now then, would he resort to
violence in order to be rid of us, or would he drop
us off one day on some remote coast? There lay the
unknown. All these hypotheses seemed extremely plausible
to me, and to hope for freedom through use of force,
you had to be a harpooner.
I realized, moreover, that Ned Land's brooding was
getting him madder by the minute. Little by little,
I heard those aforesaid cusswords welling up in
the depths of his gullet, and I saw his movements
turn threatening again. He stood up, pacing in circles
like a wild beast in a cage, striking the walls
with his foot and fist. Meanwhile the hours passed,
our hunger nagged unmercifully, and this time the
steward did not appear. Which amounted to forgetting
our castaway status for much too long, if they really
had good intentions toward us.
Tortured by the growling of his well-built stomach,
Ned Land was getting more and more riled, and despite
his word of honor, I was in real dread of an explosion
when he stood in the presence of one of the men
For two more hours Ned Land's rage increased. The
Canadian shouted and pleaded, but to no avail. The
sheet-iron walls were deaf. I didn't hear a single
sound inside this dead-seeming boat. The vessel
hadn't stirred, because I obviously would have felt
its hull vibrating under the influence of the propeller.
It had undoubtedly sunk into the watery deep and
no longer belonged to the outside world. All this
dismal silence was terrifying.
As for our neglect, our isolation in the depths
of this cell, I was afraid to guess at how long
it might last. Little by little, hopes I had entertained
after our interview with the ship's commander were
fading away. The gentleness of the man's gaze, the
generosity expressed in his facial features, the
nobility of his bearing, all vanished from my memory.
I saw this mystifying individual anew for what he
inevitably must be: cruel and merciless. I viewed
him as outside humanity, beyond all feelings of
compassion, the implacable foe of his fellow man,
toward whom he must have sworn an undying hate!
But even so, was the man going to let us die of
starvation, locked up in this cramped prison, exposed
to those horrible temptations to which people are
driven by extreme hunger? This grim possibility
took on a dreadful intensity in my mind, and fired
by my imagination, I felt an unreasoning terror
run through me. Conseil stayed calm. Ned Land bellowed.
Just then a noise was audible outside. Footsteps
rang on the metal tiling. The locks were turned,
the door opened, the steward appeared.
Before I could make a single movement to prevent
him, the Canadian rushed at the poor man, threw
him down, held him by the throat. The steward was
choking in the grip of those powerful hands.
Conseil was already trying to loosen the harpooner's
hands from his half-suffocated victim, and I had
gone to join in the rescue, when I was abruptly
nailed to the spot by these words pronounced in
"Calm down, Mr. Land! And you, professor, kindly
listen to me!"
The Man of the Waters
IT WAS THE ship's commander who had just spoken.
At these words Ned Land stood up quickly. Nearly
strangled, the steward staggered out at a signal
from his superior; but such was the commander's
authority aboard his vessel, not one gesture gave
away the resentment that this man must have felt
toward the Canadian. In silence we waited for the
outcome of this scene; Conseil, in spite of himself,
seemed almost fascinated, I was stunned.
Arms crossed, leaning against a corner of the table,
the commander studied us with great care. Was he
reluctant to speak further? Did he regret those
words he had just pronounced in French? You would
have thought so.
After a few moments of silence, which none of us
would have dreamed of interrupting:
"Gentlemen," he said in a calm, penetrating voice,
"I speak French, English, German, and Latin with
equal fluency. Hence I could have answered you as
early as our initial interview, but first I wanted
to make your acquaintance and then think things
over. Your four versions of the same narrative,
perfectly consistent by and large, established your
personal identities for me. I now know that sheer
chance has placed in my presence Professor Pierre
Aronnax, specialist in natural history at the Paris
Museum and entrusted with a scientific mission abroad,
his manservant Conseil, and Ned Land, a harpooner
of Canadian origin aboard the Abraham Lincoln, a
frigate in the national navy of the United States
I bowed in agreement. The commander hadn't put a
question to me. So no answer was called for. This
man expressed himself with perfect ease and without
a trace of an accent. His phrasing was clear, his
words well chosen, his facility in elocution remarkable.
And yet, to me, he didn't have "the feel" of a fellow
He went on with the conversation as follows:
"No doubt, sir, you've felt that I waited rather
too long before paying you this second visit. After
discovering your identities, I wanted to weigh carefully
what policy to pursue toward you. I had great difficulty
deciding. Some extremely inconvenient circumstances
have brought you into the presence of a man who
has cut himself off from humanity. Your coming has
disrupted my whole existence."
"Unintentionally," I said.
"Unintentionally?" the stranger replied, raising
his voice a little. "Was it unintentionally that
the Abraham Lincoln hunted me on every sea? Was
it unintentionally that you traveled aboard that
frigate? Was it unintentionally that your shells
bounced off my ship's hull? Was it unintentionally
that Mr. Ned Land hit me with his harpoon?"
I detected a controlled irritation in these words.
But there was a perfectly natural reply to these
charges, and I made it.
"Sir," I said, "you're surely unaware of the discussions
that have taken place in Europe and America with
yourself as the subject. You don't realize that
various accidents, caused by collisions with your
underwater machine, have aroused public passions
on those two continents. I'll spare you the innumerable
hypotheses with which we've tried to explain this
inexplicable phenomenon, whose secret is yours alone.
But please understand that the Abraham Lincoln chased
you over the Pacific high seas in the belief it
was hunting some powerful marine monster, which
had to be purged from the ocean at all cost."
A half smile curled the commander's lips; then,
in a calmer tone:
"Professor Aronnax," he replied, "do you dare claim
that your frigate wouldn't have chased and cannonaded
an underwater boat as readily as a monster?"
This question baffled me, since Commander Farragut
would certainly have shown no such hesitation. He
would have seen it as his sworn duty to destroy
a contrivance of this kind just as promptly as a
"So you understand, sir," the stranger went on,
"that I have a right to treat you as my enemy."
I kept quiet, with good reason. What was the use
of debating such a proposition, when superior force
can wipe out the best arguments?
"It took me a good while to decide," the commander
went on. "Nothing obliged me to grant you hospitality.
If I were to part company with you, I'd have no
personal interest in ever seeing you again. I could
put you back on the platform of this ship that has
served as your refuge. I could sink under the sea,
and I could forget you ever existed. Wouldn't that
be my right?"
"Perhaps it would be the right of a savage," I replied.
"But not that of a civilized man."
"Professor," the commander replied swiftly, "I'm
not what you term a civilized man! I've severed
all ties with society, for reasons that I alone
have the right to appreciate. Therefore I obey none
of its regulations, and I insist that you never
invoke them in front of me!"
This was plain speaking. A flash of anger and scorn
lit up the stranger's eyes, and I glimpsed a fearsome
past in this man's life. Not only had he placed
himself beyond human laws, he had rendered himself
independent, out of all reach, free in the strictest
sense of the word! For who would dare chase him
to the depths of the sea when he thwarted all attacks
on the surface? What ship could withstand a collision
with his underwater Monitor? What armor plate, no
matter how heavy, could bear the thrusts of his
spur? No man among men could call him to account
for his actions. God, if he believed in Him, his
conscience if he had one-- these were the only judges
to whom he was answerable.
These thoughts swiftly crossed my mind while this
strange individual fell silent, like someone completely
self-absorbed. I regarded him with a mixture of
fear and fascination, in the same way, no doubt,
that Oedipus regarded the Sphinx.
After a fairly long silence, the commander went
on with our conversation.
"So I had difficulty deciding," he said. "But I
concluded that my personal interests could be reconciled
with that natural compassion to which every human
being has a right. Since fate has brought you here,
you'll stay aboard my vessel. You'll be free here,
and in exchange for that freedom, moreover totally
related to it, I'll lay on you just one condition.
Your word that you'll submit to it will be sufficient."
"Go on, sir," I replied. "I assume this condition
is one an honest man can accept?"
"Yes, sir. Just this. It's possible that certain
unforeseen events may force me to confine you to
your cabins for some hours, or even for some days
as the case may be. Since I prefer never to use
violence, I expect from you in such a case, even
more than in any other, your unquestioning obedience.
By acting in this way, I shield you from complicity,
I absolve you of all responsibility, since I myself
make it impossible for you to see what you aren't
meant to see. Do you accept this condition?"
So things happened on board that were quite odd
to say the least, things never to be seen by people
not placing themselves beyond society's laws! Among
all the surprises the future had in store for me,
this would not be the mildest.
"We accept," I replied. "Only, I'll ask your permission,
sir, to address a question to you, just one."
"Go ahead, sir."
"You said we'd be free aboard your vessel?"
"Then I would ask what you mean by this freedom."
"Why, the freedom to come, go, see, and even closely
observe everything happening here--except under
certain rare circumstances-- in short, the freedom
we ourselves enjoy, my companions and I."
It was obvious that we did not understand each other.
"Pardon me, sir," I went on, "but that's merely
the freedom that every prisoner has, the freedom
to pace his cell! That's not enough for us."
"Nevertheless, it will have to do!"
"What! We must give up seeing our homeland, friends,
and relatives ever again?"
"Yes, sir. But giving up that intolerable earthly
yoke that some men call freedom is perhaps less
painful than you think!"
"By thunder!" Ned Land shouted. "I'll never promise
I won't try getting out of here!"
"I didn't ask for such a promise, Mr. Land," the
commander replied coldly.
"Sir," I replied, flaring up in spite of myself,
"you're taking unfair advantage of us! This is sheer
"No, sir, it's an act of mercy! You're my prisoners
of war! I've cared for you when, with a single word,
I could plunge you back into the ocean depths! You
attacked me! You've just stumbled on a secret no
living man must probe, the secret of my entire existence!
Do you think I'll send you back to a world that
must know nothing more of me? Never! By keeping
you on board, it isn't you whom I care for, it's
These words indicated that the commander pursued
a policy impervious to arguments.
"Then, sir," I went on, "you give us, quite simply,
a choice between life and death?"
"My friends," I said, "to a question couched in
these terms, our answer can be taken for granted.
But no solemn promises bind us to the commander
of this vessel."
"None, sir," the stranger replied.
Then, in a gentler voice, he went on:
"Now, allow me to finish what I have to tell you.
I've heard of you, Professor Aronnax. You, if not
your companions, won't perhaps complain too much
about the stroke of fate that has brought us together.
Among the books that make up my favorite reading,
you'll find the work you've published on the great
ocean depths. I've pored over it. You've taken your
studies as far as terrestrial science can go. But
you don't know everything because you haven't seen
everything. Let me tell you, professor, you won't
regret the time you spend aboard my vessel. You're
going to voyage through a land of wonders. Stunned
amazement will probably be your habitual state of
mind. It will be a long while before you tire of
the sights constantly before your eyes. I'm going
to make another underwater tour of the world-- perhaps
my last, who knows?--and I'll review everything
I've studied in the depths of these seas that I've
crossed so often, and you can be my fellow student.
Starting this very day, you'll enter a new element,
you'll see what no human being has ever seen before--
since my men and I no longer count--and thanks to
me, you're going to learn the ultimate secrets of
I can't deny it; the commander's words had a tremendous
effect on me. He had caught me on my weak side,
and I momentarily forgot that not even this sublime
experience was worth the loss of my freedom. Besides,
I counted on the future to resolve this important
question. So I was content to reply:
"Sir, even though you've cut yourself off from humanity,
I can see that you haven't disowned all human feeling.
We're castaways whom you've charitably taken aboard,
we'll never forget that. Speaking for myself, I
don't rule out that the interests of science could
override even the need for freedom, which promises
me that, in exchange, our encounter will provide
I thought the commander would offer me his hand,
to seal our agreement. He did nothing of the sort.
I regretted that.
"One last question," I said, just as this inexplicable
being seemed ready to withdraw.
"Ask it, professor."
"By what name am I to call you?"
"Sir," the commander replied, "to you, I'm simply
Captain Nemo;* to me, you and your companions are
simply passengers on the Nautilus."
*Latin: nemo means "no one." Ed.
Captain Nemo called out. A steward appeared. The
captain gave him his orders in that strange language
I couldn't even identify. Then, turning to the Canadian
"A meal is waiting for you in your cabin," he told
them. "Kindly follow this man."
"That's an offer I can't refuse!" the harpooner
After being confined for over thirty hours, he and
Conseil were finally out of this cell.
"And now, Professor Aronnax, our own breakfast is
ready. Allow me to lead the way."
"Yours to command, captain."
I followed Captain Nemo, and as soon as I passed
through the doorway, I went down a kind of electrically
lit passageway that resembled a gangway on a ship.
After a stretch of some ten meters, a second door
opened before me.
I then entered a dining room, decorated and furnished
in austere good taste. Inlaid with ebony trim, tall
oaken sideboards stood at both ends of this room,
and sparkling on their shelves were staggered rows
of earthenware, porcelain, and glass of incalculable
value. There silver-plated dinnerware gleamed under
rays pouring from light fixtures in the ceiling,
whose glare was softened and tempered by delicately
In the center of this room stood a table, richly
spread. Captain Nemo indicated the place I was to
"Be seated," he told me, "and eat like the famished
man you must be."
Our breakfast consisted of several dishes whose
contents were all supplied by the sea, and some
foods whose nature and derivation were unknown to
me. They were good, I admit, but with a peculiar
flavor to which I would soon grow accustomed. These
various food items seemed to be rich in phosphorous,
and I thought that they, too, must have been of
Captain Nemo stared at me. I had asked him nothing,
but he read my thoughts, and on his own he answered
the questions I was itching to address him.
"Most of these dishes are new to you," he told me.
"But you can consume them without fear. They're
healthy and nourishing. I renounced terrestrial
foods long ago, and I'm none the worse for it. My
crew are strong and full of energy, and they eat
what I eat."
"So," I said, "all these foods are products of the
"Yes, professor, the sea supplies all my needs.
Sometimes I cast my nets in our wake, and I pull
them up ready to burst. Sometimes I go hunting right
in the midst of this element that has long seemed
so far out of man's reach, and I corner the game
that dwells in my underwater forests. Like the flocks
of old Proteus, King Neptune's shepherd, my herds
graze without fear on the ocean's immense prairies.
There I own vast properties that I harvest myself,
and which are forever sown by the hand of the Creator
of All Things."
I stared at Captain Nemo in definite astonishment,
and I answered him:
"Sir, I understand perfectly how your nets can furnish
excellent fish for your table; I understand less
how you can chase aquatic game in your underwater
forests; but how a piece of red meat, no matter
how small, can figure in your menu, that I don't
understand at all."
"Nor I, sir," Captain Nemo answered me. "I never
touch the flesh of land animals."
"Nevertheless, this . . . ," I went on, pointing
to a dish where some slices of loin were still left.
"What you believe to be red meat, professor, is
nothing other than loin of sea turtle. Similarly,
here are some dolphin livers you might mistake for
stewed pork. My chef is a skillful food processor
who excels at pickling and preserving these various
exhibits from the ocean. Feel free to sample all
of these foods. Here are some preserves of sea cucumber
that a Malaysian would declare to be unrivaled in
the entire world, here's cream from milk furnished
by the udders of cetaceans, and sugar from the huge
fucus plants in the North Sea; and finally, allow
me to offer you some marmalade of sea anemone, equal
to that from the tastiest fruits."
So I sampled away, more as a curiosity seeker than
an epicure, while Captain Nemo delighted me with
his incredible anecdotes.
"But this sea, Professor Aronnax," he told me, "this
prodigious, inexhaustible wet nurse of a sea not
only feeds me, she dresses me as well. That fabric
covering you was woven from the masses of filaments
that anchor certain seashells; as the ancients were
wont to do, it was dyed with purple ink from the
murex snail and shaded with violet tints that I
extract from a marine slug, the Mediterranean sea
hare. The perfumes you'll find on the washstand
in your cabin were produced from the oozings of
marine plants. Your mattress was made from the ocean's
softest eelgrass. Your quill pen will be whalebone,
your ink a juice secreted by cuttlefish or squid.
Everything comes to me from the sea, just as someday
everything will return to it!"
"You love the sea, captain."
"Yes, I love it! The sea is the be all and end all!
It covers seven-tenths of the planet earth. Its
breath is clean and healthy. It's an immense wilderness
where a man is never lonely, because he feels life
astir on every side. The sea is simply the vehicle
for a prodigious, unearthly mode of existence; it's
simply movement and love; it's living infinity,
as one of your poets put it. And in essence, professor,
nature is here made manifest by all three of her
kingdoms, mineral, vegetable, and animal. The last
of these is amply represented by the four zoophyte
groups, three classes of articulates, five classes
of mollusks, and three vertebrate classes: mammals,
reptiles, and those countless legions of fish, an
infinite order of animals totaling more than 13,000
species, of which only one-tenth belong to fresh
water. The sea is a vast pool of nature. Our globe
began with the sea, so to speak, and who can say
we won't end with it! Here lies supreme tranquility.
The sea doesn't belong to tyrants. On its surface
they can still exercise their iniquitous claims,
battle each other, devour each other, haul every
earthly horror. But thirty feet below sea level,
their dominion ceases, their influence fades, their
power vanishes! Ah, sir, live! Live in the heart
of the seas! Here alone lies independence! Here
I recognize no superiors! Here I'm free!"
Captain Nemo suddenly fell silent in the midst of
this enthusiastic outpouring. Had he let himself
get carried away, past the bounds of his habitual
reserve? Had he said too much? For a few moments
he strolled up and down, all aquiver. Then his nerves
grew calmer, his facial features recovered their
usual icy composure, and turning to me:
"Now, professor," he said, "if you'd like to inspect
the Nautilus, I'm yours to command."
CAPTAIN NEMO stood up. I followed him. Contrived
at the rear of the dining room, a double door opened,
and I entered a room whose dimensions equaled the
one I had just left.
It was a library. Tall, black-rosewood bookcases,
inlaid with copperwork, held on their wide shelves
a large number of uniformly bound books. These furnishings
followed the contours of the room, their lower parts
leading to huge couches upholstered in maroon leather
and curved for maximum comfort. Light, movable reading
stands, which could be pushed away or pulled near
as desired, allowed books to be positioned on them
for easy study. In the center stood a huge table
covered with pamphlets, among which some newspapers,
long out of date, were visible. Electric light flooded
this whole harmonious totality, falling from four
frosted half globes set in the scrollwork of the
ceiling. I stared in genuine wonderment at this
room so ingeniously laid out, and I couldn't believe
"Captain Nemo," I told my host, who had just stretched
out on a couch, "this is a library that would do
credit to more than one continental palace, and
I truly marvel to think it can go with you into
the deepest seas."
"Where could one find greater silence or solitude,
professor?" Captain Nemo replied. "Did your study
at the museum afford you such a perfect retreat?"
"No, sir, and I might add that it's quite a humble
one next to yours. You own 6,000 or 7,000 volumes
here . . ."
"12,000, Professor Aronnax. They're my sole remaining
ties with dry land. But I was done with the shore
the day my Nautilus submerged for the first time
under the waters. That day I purchased my last volumes,
my last pamphlets, my last newspapers, and ever
since I've chosen to believe that humanity no longer
thinks or writes. In any event, professor, these
books are at your disposal, and you may use them
I thanked Captain Nemo and approached the shelves
of this library. Written in every language, books
on science, ethics, and literature were there in
abundance, but I didn't see a single work on economics--
they seemed to be strictly banned on board. One
odd detail: all these books were shelved indiscriminately
without regard to the language in which they were
written, and this jumble proved that the Nautilus's
captain could read fluently whatever volumes he
chanced to pick up.
Among these books I noted masterpieces by the greats
of ancient and modern times, in other words, all
of humanity's finest achievements in history, poetry,
fiction, and science, from Homer to Victor Hugo,
from Xenophon to Michelet, from Rabelais to Madame
George Sand. But science, in particular, represented
the major investment of this library: books on mechanics,
ballistics, hydrography, meteorology, geography,
geology, etc., held a place there no less important
than works on natural history, and I realized that
they made up the captain's chief reading. There
I saw the complete works of Humboldt, the complete
Arago, as well as works by Foucault, Henri Sainte-Claire
Deville, Chasles, Milne-Edwards, Quatrefages, John
Tyndall, Faraday, Berthelot, Father Secchi, Petermann,
Commander Maury, Louis Agassiz, etc., plus the transactions
of France's Academy of Sciences, bulletins from
the various geographical societies, etc., and in
a prime location, those two volumes on the great
ocean depths that had perhaps earned me this comparatively
charitable welcome from Captain Nemo. Among the
works of Joseph Bertrand, his book entitled The
Founders of Astronomy even gave me a definite date;
and since I knew it had appeared in the course of
1865, I concluded that the fitting out of the Nautilus
hadn't taken place before then. Accordingly, three
years ago at the most, Captain Nemo had begun his
underwater existence. Moreover, I hoped some books
even more recent would permit me to pinpoint the
date precisely; but I had plenty of time to look
for them, and I didn't want to put off any longer
our stroll through the wonders of the Nautilus.
"Sir," I told the captain, "thank you for placing
this library at my disposal. There are scientific
treasures here, and I'll take advantage of them."
"This room isn't only a library," Captain Nemo said,
"it's also a smoking room."
"A smoking room?" I exclaimed. "Then one may smoke
"In that case, sir, I'm forced to believe that you've
kept up relations with Havana."
"None whatever," the captain replied. "Try this
cigar, Professor Aronnax, and even though it doesn't
come from Havana, it will satisfy you if you're
I took the cigar offered me, whose shape recalled
those from Cuba; but it seemed to be made of gold
leaf. I lit it at a small brazier supported by an
elegant bronze stand, and I inhaled my first whiffs
with the relish of a smoker who hasn't had a puff
"It's excellent," I said, "but it's not from the
"Right," the captain replied, "this tobacco comes
from neither Havana nor the Orient. It's a kind
of nicotine-rich seaweed that the ocean supplies
me, albeit sparingly. Do you still miss your Cubans,
"Captain, I scorn them from this day forward."
"Then smoke these cigars whenever you like, without
debating their origin. They bear no government seal
of approval, but I imagine they're none the worse
"On the contrary."
Just then Captain Nemo opened a door facing the
one by which I had entered the library, and I passed
into an immense, splendidly lit lounge.
It was a huge quadrilateral with canted corners,
ten meters long, six wide, five high. A luminous
ceiling, decorated with delicate arabesques, distributed
a soft, clear daylight over all the wonders gathered
in this museum. For a museum it truly was, in which
clever hands had spared no expense to amass every
natural and artistic treasure, displaying them with
the helter-skelter picturesqueness that distinguishes
a painter's studio.
Some thirty pictures by the masters, uniformly framed
and separated by gleaming panoplies of arms, adorned
walls on which were stretched tapestries of austere
design. There I saw canvases of the highest value,
the likes of which I had marveled at in private
European collections and art exhibitions. The various
schools of the old masters were represented by a
Raphael Madonna, a Virgin by Leonardo da Vinci,
a nymph by Correggio, a woman by Titian, an adoration
of the Magi by Veronese, an assumption of the Virgin
by Murillo, a Holbein portrait, a monk by Velazquez,
a martyr by Ribera, a village fair by Rubens, two
Flemish landscapes by Teniers, three little genre
paintings by Gerard Dow, Metsu, and Paul Potter,
two canvases by Gericault and Prud'hon, plus seascapes
by Backhuysen and Vernet. Among the works of modern
art were pictures signed by Delacroix, Ingres, Decamps,
Troyon, Meissonier, Daubigny, etc., and some wonderful
miniature statues in marble or bronze, modeled after
antiquity's finest originals, stood on their pedestals
in the corners of this magnificent museum. As the
Nautilus's commander had predicted, my mind was
already starting to fall into that promised state
of stunned amazement.
"Professor," this strange man then said, "you must
excuse the informality with which I receive you,
and the disorder reigning in this lounge."
"Sir," I replied, "without prying into who you are,
might I venture to identify you as an artist?"
"A collector, sir, nothing more. Formerly I loved
acquiring these beautiful works created by the hand
of man. I sought them greedily, ferreted them out
tirelessly, and I've been able to gather some objects
of great value. They're my last mementos of those
shores that are now dead for me. In my eyes, your
modern artists are already as old as the ancients.
They've existed for 2,000 or 3,000 years, and I
mix them up in my mind. The masters are ageless."
"What about these composers?" I said, pointing to
sheet music by Weber, Rossini, Mozart, Beethoven,
Haydn, Meyerbeer, Hérold, Wagner, Auber, Gounod,
Victor Massé, and a number of others scattered over
a full size piano-organ, which occupied one of the
wall panels in this lounge.
"These composers," Captain Nemo answered me, "are
the contemporaries of Orpheus, because in the annals
of the dead, all chronological differences fade;
and I'm dead, professor, quite as dead as those
friends of yours sleeping six feet under!"
Captain Nemo fell silent and seemed lost in reverie.
I regarded him with intense excitement, silently
analyzing his strange facial expression. Leaning
his elbow on the corner of a valuable mosaic table,
he no longer saw me, he had forgotten my very presence.
I didn't disturb his meditations but continued to
pass in review the curiosities that enriched this
After the works of art, natural rarities predominated.
They consisted chiefly of plants, shells, and other
exhibits from the ocean that must have been Captain
Nemo's own personal finds. In the middle of the
lounge, a jet of water, electrically lit, fell back
into a basin made from a single giant clam. The
delicately festooned rim of this shell, supplied
by the biggest mollusk in the class Acephala, measured
about six meters in circumference; so it was even
bigger than those fine giant clams given to King
François I by the Republic of Venice, and which
the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris has made into
two gigantic holy-water fonts.
Around this basin, inside elegant glass cases fastened
with copper bands, there were classified and labeled
the most valuable marine exhibits ever put before
the eyes of a naturalist. My professorial glee may
easily be imagined.
The zoophyte branch offered some very unusual specimens
from its two groups, the polyps and the echinoderms.
In the first group: organ-pipe coral, gorgonian
coral arranged into fan shapes, soft sponges from
Syria, isis coral from the Molucca Islands, sea-pen
coral, wonderful coral of the genus Virgularia from
the waters of Norway, various coral of the genus
Umbellularia, alcyonarian coral, then a whole series
of those madrepores that my mentor Professor Milne-Edwards
has so shrewdly classified into divisions and among
which I noted the wonderful genus Flabellina as
well as the genus Oculina from Réunion Island, plus
a "Neptune's chariot" from the Caribbean Sea--every
superb variety of coral, and in short, every species
of these unusual polyparies that congregate to form
entire islands that will one day turn into continents.
Among the echinoderms, notable for being covered
with spines: starfish, feather stars, sea lilies,
free-swimming crinoids, brittle stars, sea urchins,
sea cucumbers, etc., represented a complete collection
of the individuals in this group.
An excitable conchologist would surely have fainted
dead away before other, more numerous glass cases
in which were classified specimens from the mollusk
branch. There I saw a collection of incalculable
value that I haven't time to describe completely.
Among these exhibits I'll mention, just for the
record: an elegant royal hammer shell from the Indian
Ocean, whose evenly spaced white spots stood out
sharply against a base of red and brown; an imperial
spiny oyster, brightly colored, bristling with thorns,
a specimen rare to European museums, whose value
I estimated at 20,000 francs; a common hammer shell
from the seas near Queensland, very hard to come
by; exotic cockles from Senegal, fragile white bivalve
shells that a single breath could pop like a soap
bubble; several varieties of watering-pot shell
from Java, a sort of limestone tube fringed with
leafy folds and much fought over by collectors;
a whole series of top-shell snails--greenish yellow
ones fished up from American seas, others colored
reddish brown that patronize the waters off Queensland,
the former coming from the Gulf of Mexico and notable
for their overlapping shells, the latter some sun-carrier
shells found in the southernmost seas, finally and
rarest of all, the magnificent spurred-star shell
from New Zealand; then some wonderful peppery-furrow
shells; several valuable species of cythera clams
and venus clams; the trellis wentletrap snail from
Tranquebar on India's eastern shore; a marbled turban
snail gleaming with mother-of-pearl; green parrot
shells from the seas of China; the virtually unknown
cone snail from the genus Coenodullus; every variety
of cowry used as money in India and Africa; a "glory-of-the-seas,"
the most valuable shell in the East Indies; finally,
common periwinkles, delphinula snails, turret snails,
violet snails, European cowries, volute snails,
olive shells, miter shells, helmet shells, murex
snails, whelks, harp shells, spiky periwinkles,
triton snails, horn shells, spindle shells, conch
shells, spider conchs, limpets, glass snails, sea
butterflies-- every kind of delicate, fragile seashell
that science has baptized with its most delightful
Aside and in special compartments, strings of supremely
beautiful pearls were spread out, the electric light
flecking them with little fiery sparks: pink pearls
pulled from saltwater fan shells in the Red Sea;
green pearls from the rainbow abalone; yellow, blue,
and black pearls, the unusual handiwork of various
mollusks from every ocean and of certain mussels
from rivers up north; in short, several specimens
of incalculable worth that had been oozed by the
rarest of shellfish. Some of these pearls were bigger
than a pigeon egg; they more than equaled the one
that the explorer Tavernier sold the Shah of Persia
for 3,000,000 francs, and they surpassed that other
pearl owned by the Imam of Muscat, which I had believed
to be unrivaled in the entire world.
Consequently, to calculate the value of this collection
was, I should say, impossible. Captain Nemo must
have spent millions in acquiring these different
specimens, and I was wondering what financial resources
he tapped to satisfy his collector's fancies, when
these words interrupted me:
"You're examining my shells, professor? They're
indeed able to fascinate a naturalist; but for me
they have an added charm, since I've collected every
one of them with my own two hands, and not a sea
on the globe has escaped my investigations."
"I understand, captain, I understand your delight
at strolling in the midst of this wealth. You're
a man who gathers his treasure in person. No museum
in Europe owns such a collection of exhibits from
the ocean. But if I exhaust all my wonderment on
them, I'll have nothing left for the ship that carries
them! I have absolutely no wish to probe those secrets
of yours! But I confess that my curiosity is aroused
to the limit by this Nautilus, the motor power it
contains, the equipment enabling it to operate,
the ultra powerful force that brings it to life.
I see some instruments hanging on the walls of this
lounge whose purposes are unknown to me. May I learn--"
"Professor Aronnax," Captain Nemo answered me, "I've
said you'd be free aboard my vessel, so no part
of the Nautilus is off-limits to you. You may inspect
it in detail, and I'll be delighted to act as your
"I don't know how to thank you, sir, but I won't
abuse your good nature. I would only ask you about
the uses intended for these instruments of physical
"Professor, these same instruments are found in
my stateroom, where I'll have the pleasure of explaining
their functions to you. But beforehand, come inspect
the cabin set aside for you. You need to learn how
you'll be lodged aboard the Nautilus."
I followed Captain Nemo, who, via one of the doors
cut into the lounge's canted corners, led me back
down the ship's gangways. He took me to the bow,
and there I found not just a cabin but an elegant
stateroom with a bed, a washstand, and various other
I could only thank my host.
"Your stateroom adjoins mine," he told me, opening
a door, "and mine leads into that lounge we've just
I entered the captain's stateroom. It had an austere,
almost monastic appearance. An iron bedstead, a
worktable, some washstand fixtures. Subdued lighting.
No luxuries. Just the bare necessities.
Captain Nemo showed me to a bench.
"Kindly be seated," he told me.
I sat, and he began speaking as follows:
Everything through Electricity
"SIR," CAPTAIN NEMO SAID, showing me the instruments
hanging on the walls of his stateroom,
"these are the devices needed to navigate the Nautilus.
Here, as in the lounge, I always have them before
my eyes, and they indicate my position and exact
heading in the midst of the ocean. You're familiar
with some of them, such as the thermometer, which
gives the temperature inside the Nautilus; the barometer,
which measures the heaviness of the outside air
and forecasts changes in the weather; the humidistat,
which indicates the degree of dryness in the atmosphere;
the storm glass, whose mixture decomposes to foretell
the arrival of tempests; the compass, which steers
my course; the sextant, which takes the sun's altitude
and tells me my latitude; chronometers, which allow
me to calculate my longitude; and finally, spyglasses
for both day and night, enabling me to scrutinize
every point of the horizon once the Nautilus has
risen to the surface of the waves."
"These are the normal navigational instruments,"
I replied, "and I'm familiar with their uses. But
no doubt these others answer pressing needs unique
to the Nautilus. That dial I see there, with the
needle moving across it--isn't it a pressure gauge?"
"It is indeed a pressure gauge. It's placed in contact
with the water, and it indicates the outside pressure
on our hull, which in turn gives me the depth at
which my submersible is sitting."
"And these are some new breed of sounding line?"
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
**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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
I gaped at the bizarre individual who had just spoken
these words. Was he playing on my credulity? Time
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
"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 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
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
"West of which meridian?" I asked quickly, hoping
the captain's reply might give me a clue to his
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
*Author's Note: "Ladyfingers" are small, thin, white
clouds with ragged edges.
But what were mere winds to this Nautilus, which
no storms could intimidate!
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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,"
"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
"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
*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
"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
"No one will force you, Mr. Land," Captain Nemo
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
My blood turned cold in my veins! I saw that we
were under threat from a fearsome pair of sharks.
They were blue sharks, dreadful man-eaters with
enormous tails, dull, glassy stares, and phosphorescent
matter oozing from holes around their snouts. They
were like monstrous fireflies that could thoroughly
pulverize a man in their iron jaws! I don't know
if Conseil was busy with their classification, but
as for me, I looked at their silver bellies, their
fearsome mouths bristling with teeth, from a viewpoint
less than scientific-- more as a victim than as
a professor of natural history.
Luckily these voracious animals have poor eyesight.
They went by without noticing us, grazing us with
their brownish fins; and miraculously, we escaped
a danger greater than encountering a tiger deep
in the jungle.
Half an hour later, guided by its electric trail,
we reached the Nautilus. The outside door had been
left open, and Captain Nemo closed it after we reentered
the first cell. Then he pressed a button. I heard
pumps operating within the ship, I felt the water
lowering around me, and in a few moments the cell
was completely empty. The inside door opened, and
we passed into the wardrobe.
There our diving suits were removed, not without
difficulty; and utterly exhausted, faint from lack
of food and rest, I repaired to my stateroom, full
of wonder at this startling excursion on the bottom
of the sea.
Four Thousand Leagues Under the Pacific
BY THE NEXT MORNING, November 18, I was fully recovered
from my exhaustion of the day before, and I climbed
onto the platform just as the Nautilus's chief officer
was pronouncing his daily phrase. It then occurred
to me that these words either referred to the state
of the sea, or that they meant: "There's nothing
And in truth, the ocean was deserted. Not a sail
on the horizon. The tips of Crespo Island had disappeared
during the night. The sea, absorbing every color
of the prism except its blue rays, reflected the
latter in every direction and sported a wonderful
indigo tint. The undulating waves regularly took
on the appearance of watered silk with wide stripes.
I was marveling at this magnificent ocean view when
Captain Nemo appeared. He didn't seem to notice
my presence and began a series of astronomical observations.
Then, his operations finished, he went and leaned
his elbows on the beacon housing, his eyes straying
over the surface of the ocean.
Meanwhile some twenty of the Nautilus's sailors--all
energetic, well-built fellows--climbed onto the
platform. They had come to pull up the nets left
in our wake during the night. These seamen obviously
belonged to different nationalities, although indications
of European physical traits could be seen in them
all. If I'm not mistaken, I recognized some Irishmen,
some Frenchmen, a few Slavs, and a native of either
Greece or Crete. Even so, these men were frugal
of speech and used among themselves only that bizarre
dialect whose origin I couldn't even guess. So I
had to give up any notions of questioning them.
The nets were hauled on board. They were a breed
of trawl resembling those used off the Normandy
coast, huge pouches held half open by a floating
pole and a chain laced through the lower meshes.
Trailing in this way from these iron glove makers,
the resulting receptacles scoured the ocean floor
and collected every marine exhibit in their path.
That day they gathered up some unusual specimens
from these fish-filled waterways: anglerfish whose
comical movements qualify them for the epithet "clowns,"
black Commerson anglers equipped with their antennas,
undulating triggerfish encircled by little red bands,
bloated puffers whose venom is extremely insidious,
some olive-hued lampreys, snipefish covered with
silver scales, cutlass fish whose electrocuting
power equals that of the electric eel and the electric
ray, scaly featherbacks with brown crosswise bands,
greenish codfish, several varieties of goby, etc.;
finally, some fish of larger proportions: a one-meter
jack with a prominent head, several fine bonito
from the genus Scomber decked out in the colors
blue and silver, and three magnificent tuna whose
high speeds couldn't save them from our trawl.
I estimate that this cast of the net brought in
more than 1,000 pounds of fish. It was a fine catch
but not surprising. In essence, these nets stayed
in our wake for several hours, incarcerating an
entire aquatic world in prisons made of thread.
So we were never lacking in provisions of the highest
quality, which the Nautilus's speed and the allure
of its electric light could continually replenish.
These various exhibits from the sea were immediately
lowered down the hatch in the direction of the storage
lockers, some to be eaten fresh, others to be preserved.
After its fishing was finished and its air supply
renewed, I thought the Nautilus would resume its
underwater excursion, and I was getting ready to
return to my stateroom, when Captain Nemo turned
to me and said without further preamble:
"Look at this ocean, professor! Doesn't it have
the actual gift of life? Doesn't it experience both
anger and affection? Last evening it went to sleep
just as we did, and there it is, waking up after
a peaceful night!"
No hellos or good mornings for this gent! You would
have thought this eccentric individual was simply
continuing a conversation we'd already started!
"See!" he went on. "It's waking up under the sun's
caresses! It's going to relive its daily existence!
What a fascinating field of study lies in watching
the play of its organism. It owns a pulse and arteries,
it has spasms, and I side with the scholarly Commander
Maury, who discovered that it has a circulation
as real as the circulation of blood in animals."
I'm sure that Captain Nemo expected no replies from
me, and it seemed pointless to pitch in with "Ah
yes," "Exactly," or "How right you are!" Rather,
he was simply talking to himself, with long pauses
between sentences. He was meditating out loud.
"Yes," he said, "the ocean owns a genuine circulation,
and to start it going, the Creator of All Things
has only to increase its heat, salt, and microscopic
animal life. In essence, heat creates the different
densities that lead to currents and countercurrents.
Evaporation, which is nil in the High Arctic regions
and very active in equatorial zones, brings about
a constant interchange of tropical and polar waters.
What's more, I've detected those falling and rising
currents that make up the ocean's true breathing.
I've seen a molecule of salt water heat up at the
surface, sink into the depths, reach maximum density
at -2 degrees centigrade, then cool off, grow lighter,
and rise again. At the poles you'll see the consequences
of this phenomenon, and through this law of farseeing
nature, you'll understand why water can freeze only
at the surface!"
As the captain was finishing his sentence, I said
to myself: "The pole! Is this brazen individual
claiming he'll take us even to that location?"
Meanwhile the captain fell silent and stared at
the element he had studied so thoroughly and unceasingly.
Then, going on:
"Salts," he said, "fill the sea in considerable
quantities, professor, and if you removed all its
dissolved saline content, you'd create a mass measuring
4,500,000 cubic leagues, which if it were spread
all over the globe, would form a layer more than
ten meters high. And don't think that the presence
of these salts is due merely to some whim of nature.
No. They make ocean water less open to evaporation
and prevent winds from carrying off excessive amounts
of steam, which, when condensing, would submerge
the temperate zones. Salts play a leading role,
the role of stabilizer for the general ecology of
Captain Nemo stopped, straightened up, took a few
steps along the platform, and returned to me:
"As for those billions of tiny animals," he went
on, "those infusoria that live by the millions in
one droplet of water, 800,000 of which are needed
to weigh one milligram, their role is no less important.
They absorb the marine salts, they assimilate the
solid elements in the water, and since they create
coral and madrepores, they're the true builders
of limestone continents! And so, after they've finished
depriving our water drop of its mineral nutrients,
the droplet gets lighter, rises to the surface,
there absorbs more salts left behind through evaporation,
gets heavier, sinks again, and brings those tiny
animals new elements to absorb. The outcome: a double
current, rising and falling, constant movement,
constant life! More intense than on land, more abundant,
more infinite, such life blooms in every part of
this ocean, an element fatal to man, they say, but
vital to myriads of animals--and to me!"
When Captain Nemo spoke in this way, he was transfigured,
and he filled me with extraordinary excitement.
"There," he added, "out there lies true existence!
And I can imagine the founding of nautical towns,
clusters of underwater households that, like the
Nautilus, would return to the surface of the sea
to breathe each morning, free towns if ever there
were, independent cities! Then again, who knows
whether some tyrant . . ."
Captain Nemo finished his sentence with a vehement
gesture. Then, addressing me directly, as if to
drive away an ugly thought:
"Professor Aronnax," he asked me, "do you know the
depth of the ocean floor?"
"At least, captain, I know what the major soundings
"Could you quote them to me, so I can double-check
them as the need arises?"
"Here," I replied, "are a few of them that stick
in my memory. If I'm not mistaken, an average depth
of 8,200 meters was found in the north Atlantic,
and 2,500 meters in the Mediterranean. The most
remarkable soundings were taken in the south Atlantic
near the 35th parallel, and they gave 12,000 meters,
14,091 meters, and 15,149 meters. All in all, it's
estimated that if the sea bottom were made level,
its average depth would be about seven kilometers."
"Well, professor," Captain Nemo replied, "we'll
show you better than that, I hope. As for the average
depth of this part of the Pacific, I'll inform you
that it's a mere 4,000 meters."
This said, Captain Nemo headed to the hatch and
disappeared down the ladder. I followed him and
went back to the main lounge. The propeller was
instantly set in motion, and the log gave our speed
as twenty miles per hour.
Over the ensuing days and weeks, Captain Nemo was
very frugal with his visits. I saw him only at rare
intervals. His chief officer regularly fixed the
positions I found reported on the chart, and in
such a way that I could exactly plot the Nautilus's
Conseil and Land spent the long hours with me. Conseil
had told his friend about the wonders of our undersea
stroll, and the Canadian was sorry he hadn't gone
along. But I hoped an opportunity would arise for
a visit to the forests of Oceania.
Almost every day the panels in the lounge were open
for some hours, and our eyes never tired of probing
the mysteries of the underwater world.
The Nautilus's general heading was southeast, and
it stayed at a depth between 100 and 150 meters.
However, from lord-knows-what whim, one day it did
a diagonal dive by means of its slanting fins, reaching
strata located 2,000 meters underwater. The thermometer
indicated a temperature of 4.25 degrees centigrade,
which at this depth seemed to be a temperature common
to all latitudes.
On November 26, at three o'clock in the morning,
the Nautilus cleared the Tropic of Cancer at longitude
172 degrees. On the 27th it passed in sight of the
Hawaiian Islands, where the famous Captain Cook
met his death on February 14, 1779. By then we had
fared 4,860 leagues from our starting point. When
I arrived on the platform that morning, I saw the
Island of Hawaii two miles to leeward, the largest
of the seven islands making up this group. I could
clearly distinguish the tilled soil on its outskirts,
the various mountain chains running parallel with
its coastline, and its volcanoes, crowned by Mauna
Kea, whose elevation is 5,000 meters above sea level.
Among other specimens from these waterways, our
nets brought up some peacock-tailed flabellarian
coral, polyps flattened into stylish shapes and
unique to this part of the ocean.
The Nautilus kept to its southeasterly heading.
On December 1 it cut the equator at longitude 142
degrees, and on the 4th of the same month, after
a quick crossing marked by no incident, we raised
the Marquesas Islands. Three miles off, in latitude
8 degrees 57' south and longitude 139 degrees 32'
west, I spotted Martin Point on Nuku Hiva, chief
member of this island group that belongs to France.
I could make out only its wooded mountains on the
horizon, because Captain Nemo hated to hug shore.
There our nets brought up some fine fish samples:
dolphinfish with azure fins, gold tails, and flesh
that's unrivaled in the entire world, wrasse from
the genus Hologymnosus that were nearly denuded
of scales but exquisite in flavor, knifejaws with
bony beaks, yellowish albacore that were as tasty
as bonito, all fish worth classifying in the ship's
After leaving these delightful islands to the protection
of the French flag, the Nautilus covered about 2,000
miles from December 4 to the 11th. Its navigating
was marked by an encounter with an immense school
of squid, unusual mollusks that are near neighbors
of the cuttlefish. French fishermen give them the
name "cuckoldfish," and they belong to the class
Cephalopoda, family Dibranchiata, consisting of
themselves together with cuttlefish and argonauts.
The naturalists of antiquity made a special study
of them, and these animals furnished many ribald
figures of speech for soapbox orators in the Greek
marketplace, as well as excellent dishes for the
tables of rich citizens, if we're to believe Athenaeus,
a Greek physician predating Galen.
It was during the night of December 9-10 that the
Nautilus encountered this army of distinctly nocturnal
mollusks. They numbered in the millions. They were
migrating from the temperate zones toward zones
still warmer, following the itineraries of herring
and sardines. We stared at them through our thick
glass windows: they swam backward with tremendous
speed, moving by means of their locomotive tubes,
chasing fish and mollusks, eating the little ones,
eaten by the big ones, and tossing in indescribable
confusion the ten feet that nature has rooted in
their heads like a hairpiece of pneumatic snakes.
Despite its speed, the Nautilus navigated for several
hours in the midst of this school of animals, and
its nets brought up an incalculable number, among
which I recognized all nine species that Professor
Orbigny has classified as native to the Pacific
During this crossing, the sea continually lavished
us with the most marvelous sights. Its variety was
infinite. It changed its setting and decor for the
mere pleasure of our eyes, and we were called upon
not simply to contemplate the works of our Creator
in the midst of the liquid element, but also to
probe the ocean's most daunting mysteries.
During the day of December 11, I was busy reading
in the main lounge. Ned Land and Conseil were observing
the luminous waters through the gaping panels. The
Nautilus was motionless. Its ballast tanks full,
it was sitting at a depth of 1,000 meters in a comparatively
unpopulated region of the ocean where only larger
fish put in occasional appearances.
Just then I was studying a delightful book by Jean
Macé, The Servants of the Stomach, and savoring
its ingenious teachings, when Conseil interrupted
"Would master kindly come here for an instant?"
he said to me in an odd voice.
"What is it, Conseil?"
"It's something that master should see."
I stood up, went, leaned on my elbows before the
window, and I saw it.
In the broad electric daylight, an enormous black
mass, quite motionless, hung suspended in the midst
of the waters. I observed it carefully, trying to
find out the nature of this gigantic cetacean. Then
a sudden thought crossed my mind.
"A ship!" I exclaimed.
"Yes," the Canadian replied, "a disabled craft that's
sinking straight down!"
Ned Land was not mistaken. We were in the presence
of a ship whose severed shrouds still hung from
their clasps. Its hull looked in good condition,
and it must have gone under only a few hours before.
The stumps of three masts, chopped off two feet
above the deck, indicated a flooding ship that had
been forced to sacrifice its masting. But it had
heeled sideways, filling completely, and it was
listing to port even yet. A sorry sight, this carcass
lost under the waves, but sorrier still was the
sight on its deck, where, lashed with ropes to prevent
their being washed overboard, some human corpses
still lay! I counted four of them--four men, one
still standing at the helm-- then a woman, halfway
out of a skylight on the afterdeck, holding a child
in her arms. This woman was young. Under the brilliant
lighting of the Nautilus's rays, I could make out
her features, which the water hadn't yet decomposed.
With a supreme effort, she had lifted her child
above her head, and the poor little creature's arms
were still twined around its mother's neck! The
postures of the four seamen seemed ghastly to me,
twisted from convulsive movements, as if making
a last effort to break loose from the ropes that
bound them to their ship. And the helmsman, standing
alone, calmer, his face smooth and serious, his
grizzled hair plastered to his brow, his hands clutching
the wheel, seemed even yet to be guiding his wrecked
three-master through the ocean depths!
What a scene! We stood dumbstruck, hearts pounding,
before this shipwreck caught in the act, as if it
had been photographed in its final moments, so to
speak! And already I could see enormous sharks moving
in, eyes ablaze, drawn by the lure of human flesh!
Meanwhile, turning, the Nautilus made a circle around
the sinking ship, and for an instant I could read
the board on its stern:
THIS DREADFUL SIGHT was the first of a whole series
of maritime catastrophes that the Nautilus would
encounter on its run. When it plied more heavily
traveled seas, we often saw wrecked hulls rotting
in midwater, and farther down, cannons, shells,
anchors, chains, and a thousand other iron objects
Meanwhile, continuously swept along by the Nautilus,
where we lived in near isolation, we raised the
Tuamotu Islands on December 11, that old "dangerous
group" associated with the French global navigator
Commander Bougainville; it stretches from Ducie
Island to Lazareff Island over an area of 500 leagues
from the east-southeast to the west-northwest, between
latitude 13 degrees 30' and 23 degrees 50' south,
and between longitude 125 degrees 30' and 151 degrees
30' west. This island group covers a surface area
of 370 square leagues, and it's made up of some
sixty subgroups, among which we noted the Gambier
group, which is a French protectorate. These islands
are coral formations. Thanks to the work of polyps,
a slow but steady upheaval will someday connect
these islands to each other. Later on, this new
island will be fused to its neighboring island groups,
and a fifth continent will stretch from New Zealand
and New Caledonia as far as the Marquesas Islands.
The day I expounded this theory to Captain Nemo,
he answered me coldly:
"The earth doesn't need new continents, but new
Sailors' luck led the Nautilus straight to Reao
Island, one of the most unusual in this group, which
was discovered in 1822 by Captain Bell aboard the
Minerva. So I was able to study the madreporic process
that has created the islands in this ocean.
Madrepores, which one must guard against confusing
with precious coral, clothe their tissue in a limestone
crust, and their variations in structure have led
my famous mentor Professor Milne-Edwards to classify
them into five divisions. The tiny microscopic animals
that secrete this polypary live by the billions
in the depths of their cells. Their limestone deposits
build up into rocks, reefs, islets, islands. In
some places, they form atolls, a circular ring surrounding
a lagoon or small inner lake that gaps place in
contact with the sea. Elsewhere, they take the shape
of barrier reefs, such as those that exist along
the coasts of New Caledonia and several of the Tuamotu
Islands. In still other localities, such as Réunion
Island and the island of Mauritius, they build fringing
reefs, high, straight walls next to which the ocean's
depth is considerable.
While cruising along only a few cable lengths from
the underpinning of Reao Island, I marveled at the
gigantic piece of work accomplished by these microscopic
laborers. These walls were the express achievements
of madrepores known by the names fire coral, finger
coral, star coral, and stony coral. These polyps
grow exclusively in the agitated strata at the surface
of the sea, and so it's in the upper reaches that
they begin these substructures, which sink little
by little together with the secreted rubble binding
them. This, at least, is the theory of Mr. Charles
Darwin, who thus explains the formation of atolls--a
theory superior, in my view, to the one that says
these madreporic edifices sit on the summits of
mountains or volcanoes submerged a few feet below
I could observe these strange walls quite closely:
our sounding lines indicated that they dropped perpendicularly
for more than 300 meters, and our electric beams
made the bright limestone positively sparkle.
In reply to a question Conseil asked me about the
growth rate of these colossal barriers, I thoroughly
amazed him by saying that scientists put it at an
eighth of an inch per biennium.
"Therefore," he said to me, "to build these walls,
it took . . . ?"
"192,000 years, my gallant Conseil, which significantly
extends the biblical Days of Creation. What's more,
the formation of coal-- in other words, the petrification
of forests swallowed by floods-- and the cooling
of basaltic rocks likewise call for a much longer
period of time. I might add that those 'days' in
the Bible must represent whole epochs and not literally
the lapse of time between two sunrises, because
according to the Bible itself, the sun doesn't date
from the first day of Creation."
When the Nautilus returned to the surface of the
ocean, I could take in Reao Island over its whole
flat, wooded expanse. Obviously its madreporic rocks
had been made fertile by tornadoes and thunderstorms.
One day, carried off by a hurricane from neighboring
shores, some seed fell onto these limestone beds,
mixing with decomposed particles of fish and marine
plants to form vegetable humus. Propelled by the
waves, a coconut arrived on this new coast. Its
germ took root. Its tree grew tall, catching steam
off the water. A brook was born. Little by little,
vegetation spread. Tiny animals--worms, insects--rode
ashore on tree trunks snatched from islands to windward.
Turtles came to lay their eggs. Birds nested in
the young trees. In this way animal life developed,
and drawn by the greenery and fertile soil, man
appeared. And that's how these islands were formed,
the immense achievement of microscopic animals.
Near evening Reao Island melted into the distance,
and the Nautilus noticeably changed course. After
touching the Tropic of Capricorn at longitude 135
degrees, it headed west-northwest, going back up
the whole intertropical zone. Although the summer
sun lavished its rays on us, we never suffered from
the heat, because thirty or forty meters underwater,
the temperature didn't go over 10 degrees to 12
By December 15 we had left the alluring Society
Islands in the west, likewise elegant Tahiti, queen
of the Pacific. In the morning I spotted this island's
lofty summits a few miles to leeward. Its waters
supplied excellent fish for the tables on board:
mackerel, bonito, albacore, and a few varieties
of that sea serpent named the moray eel.
The Nautilus had cleared 8,100 miles. We logged
9,720 miles when we passed between the Tonga Islands,
where crews from the Argo, Port-au-Prince, and Duke
of Portland had perished, and the island group of
Samoa, scene of the slaying of Captain de Langle,
friend of that long-lost navigator, the Count de
La Pérouse. Then we raised the Fiji Islands, where
savages slaughtered sailors from the Union, as well
as Captain Bureau, commander of the Darling Josephine
out of Nantes, France.
Extending over an expanse of 100 leagues north to
south, and over 90 leagues east to west, this island
group lies between latitude 2 degrees and 6 degrees
south, and between longitude 174 degrees and 179
degrees west. It consists of a number of islands,
islets, and reefs, among which we noted the islands
of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, and Kadavu.
It was the Dutch navigator Tasman who discovered
this group in 1643, the same year the Italian physicist
Torricelli invented the barometer and King Louis
XIV ascended the French throne. I'll let the reader
decide which of these deeds was more beneficial
to humanity. Coming later, Captain Cook in 1774,
Rear Admiral d'Entrecasteaux in 1793, and finally
Captain Dumont d'Urville in 1827, untangled the
whole chaotic geography of this island group. The
Nautilus drew near Wailea Bay, an unlucky place
for England's Captain Dillon, who was the first
to shed light on the longstanding mystery surrounding
the disappearance of ships under the Count de La
This bay, repeatedly dredged, furnished a huge supply
of excellent oysters. As the Roman playwright Seneca
recommended, we opened them right at our table,
then stuffed ourselves. These mollusks belonged
to the species known by name as Ostrea lamellosa,
whose members are quite common off Corsica. This
Wailea oysterbank must have been extensive, and
for certain, if they hadn't been controlled by numerous
natural checks, these clusters of shellfish would
have ended up jam-packing the bay, since as many
as 2,000,000 eggs have been counted in a single
And if Mr. Ned Land did not repent of his gluttony
at our oyster fest, it's because oysters are the
only dish that never causes indigestion. In fact,
it takes no less than sixteen dozen of these headless
mollusks to supply the 315 grams that satisfy one
man's minimum daily requirement for nitrogen.
On December 25 the Nautilus navigated amid the island
group of the New Hebrides, which the Portuguese
seafarer Queirós discovered in 1606, which Commander
Bougainville explored in 1768, and to which Captain
Cook gave its current name in 1773. This group is
chiefly made up of nine large islands and forms
a 120-league strip from the north-northwest to the
south-southeast, lying between latitude 2 degrees
and 15 degrees south, and between longitude 164
degrees and 168 degrees. At the moment of our noon
sights, we passed fairly close to the island of
Aurou, which looked to me like a mass of green woods
crowned by a peak of great height.
That day it was yuletide, and it struck me that
Ned Land badly missed celebrating "Christmas," that
genuine family holiday where Protestants are such
I hadn't seen Captain Nemo for over a week, when,
on the morning of the 27th, he entered the main
lounge, as usual acting as if he'd been gone for
just five minutes. I was busy tracing the Nautilus's
course on the world map. The captain approached,
placed a finger over a position on the chart, and
pronounced just one word:
This name was magic! It was the name of those islets
where vessels under the Count de La Pérouse had
miscarried. I straightened suddenly.
"The Nautilus is bringing us to Vanikoro?" I asked.
"Yes, professor," the captain replied.
"And I'll be able to visit those famous islands
where the Compass and the Astrolabe came to grief?"
"If you like, professor."
"When will we reach Vanikoro?"
"We already have, professor."
Followed by Captain Nemo, I climbed onto the platform,
and from there my eyes eagerly scanned the horizon.
In the northeast there emerged two volcanic islands
of unequal size, surrounded by a coral reef whose
circuit measured forty miles. We were facing the
island of Vanikoro proper, to which Captain Dumont
d'Urville had given the name "Island of the Search";
we lay right in front of the little harbor of Vana,
located in latitude 16 degrees 4' south and longitude
164 degrees 32' east. Its shores seemed covered
with greenery from its beaches to its summits inland,
crowned by Mt. Kapogo, which is 476 fathoms high.
After clearing the outer belt of rocks via a narrow
passageway, the Nautilus lay inside the breakers
where the sea had a depth of thirty to forty fathoms.
Under the green shade of some tropical evergreens,
I spotted a few savages who looked extremely startled
at our approach. In this long, blackish object advancing
flush with the water, didn't they see some fearsome
cetacean that they were obliged to view with distrust?
Just then Captain Nemo asked me what I knew about
the shipwreck of the Count de La Pérouse.
"What everybody knows, captain," I answered him.
"And could you kindly tell me what everybody knows?"
he asked me in a gently ironic tone.
I related to him what the final deeds of Captain
Dumont d'Urville had brought to light, deeds described
here in this heavily condensed summary of the whole
In 1785 the Count de La Pérouse and his subordinate,
Captain de Langle, were sent by King Louis XVI of
France on a voyage to circumnavigate the globe.
They boarded two sloops of war, the Compass and
the Astrolabe, which were never seen again.
In 1791, justly concerned about the fate of these
two sloops of war, the French government fitted
out two large cargo boats, the Search and the Hope,
which left Brest on September 28 under orders from
Rear Admiral Bruni d'Entrecasteaux. Two months later,
testimony from a certain Commander Bowen, aboard
the Albemarle, alleged that rubble from shipwrecked
vessels had been seen on the coast of New Georgia.
But d'Entrecasteaux was unaware of this news--which
seemed a bit dubious anyhow--and headed toward the
Admiralty Islands, which had been named in a report
by one Captain Hunter as the site of the Count de
La Pérouse's shipwreck.
They looked in vain. The Hope and the Search passed
right by Vanikoro without stopping there; and overall,
this voyage was plagued by misfortune, ultimately
costing the lives of Rear Admiral d'Entrecasteaux,
two of his subordinate officers, and several seamen
from his crew.
It was an old hand at the Pacific, the English adventurer
Captain Peter Dillon, who was the first to pick
up the trail left by castaways from the wrecked
vessels. On May 15, 1824, his ship, the St. Patrick,
passed by Tikopia Island, one of the New Hebrides.
There a native boatman pulled alongside in a dugout
canoe and sold Dillon a silver sword hilt bearing
the imprint of characters engraved with a cutting
tool known as a burin. Furthermore, this native
boatman claimed that during a stay in Vanikoro six
years earlier, he had seen two Europeans belonging
to ships that had run aground on the island's reefs
many years before.
Dillon guessed that the ships at issue were those
under the Count de La Pérouse, ships whose disappearance
had shaken the entire world. He tried to reach Vanikoro,
where, according to the native boatman, a good deal
of rubble from the shipwreck could still be found,
but winds and currents prevented his doing so.
Dillon returned to Calcutta. There he was able to
interest the Asiatic Society and the East India
Company in his discovery. A ship named after the
Search was placed at his disposal, and he departed
on January 23, 1827, accompanied by a French deputy.
This new Search, after putting in at several stops
over the Pacific, dropped anchor before Vanikoro
on July 7, 1827, in the same harbor of Vana where
the Nautilus was currently floating.
There Dillon collected many relics of the shipwreck:
iron utensils, anchors, eyelets from pulleys, swivel
guns, an eighteen-pound shell, the remains of some
astronomical instruments, a piece of sternrail,
and a bronze bell bearing the inscription "Made
by Bazin," the foundry mark at Brest Arsenal around
1785. There could no longer be any doubt.
Finishing his investigations, Dillon stayed at the
site of the casualty until the month of October.
Then he left Vanikoro, headed toward New Zealand,
dropped anchor at Calcutta on April 7, 1828, and
returned to France, where he received a very cordial
welcome from King Charles X.
But just then the renowned French explorer Captain
Dumont d'Urville, unaware of Dillon's activities,
had already set sail to search elsewhere for the
site of the shipwreck. In essence, a whaling vessel
had reported that some medals and a Cross of St.
Louis had been found in the hands of savages in
the Louisiade Islands and New Caledonia.
So Captain Dumont d'Urville had put to sea in command
of a vessel named after the Astrolabe, and just
two months after Dillon had left Vanikoro, Dumont
d'Urville dropped anchor before Hobart. There he
heard about Dillon's findings, and he further learned
that a certain James Hobbs, chief officer on the
Union out of Calcutta, had put to shore on an island
located in latitude 8 degrees 18' south and longitude
156 degrees 30' east, and had noted the natives
of those waterways making use of iron bars and red
Pretty perplexed, Dumont d'Urville didn't know if
he should give credence to these reports, which
had been carried in some of the less reliable newspapers;
nevertheless, he decided to start on Dillon's trail.
On February 10, 1828, the new Astrolabe hove before
Tikopia Island, took on a guide and interpreter
in the person of a deserter who had settled there,
plied a course toward Vanikoro, raised it on February
12, sailed along its reefs until the 14th, and only
on the 20th dropped anchor inside its barrier in
the harbor of Vana.
On the 23rd, several officers circled the island
and brought back some rubble of little importance.
The natives, adopting a system of denial and evasion,
refused to guide them to the site of the casualty.
This rather shady conduct aroused the suspicion
that the natives had mistreated the castaways; and
in truth, the natives seemed afraid that Dumont
d'Urville had come to avenge the Count de La Pérouse
and his unfortunate companions.
But on the 26th, appeased with gifts and seeing
that they didn't need to fear any reprisals, the
natives led the chief officer, Mr. Jacquinot, to
the site of the shipwreck.
At this location, in three or four fathoms of water
between the Paeu and Vana reefs, there lay some
anchors, cannons, and ingots of iron and lead, all
caked with limestone concretions. A launch and whaleboat
from the new Astrolabe were steered to this locality,
and after going to exhausting lengths, their crews
managed to dredge up an anchor weighing 1,800 pounds,
a cast-iron eight-pounder cannon, a lead ingot,
and two copper swivel guns.
Questioning the natives, Captain Dumont d'Urville
also learned that after La Pérouse's two ships had
miscarried on the island's reefs, the count had
built a smaller craft, only to go off and miscarry
a second time. Where? Nobody knew.
The commander of the new Astrolabe then had a monument
erected under a tuft of mangrove, in memory of the
famous navigator and his companions. It was a simple
quadrangular pyramid, set on a coral base, with
no ironwork to tempt the natives' avarice.
Then Dumont d'Urville tried to depart; but his crews
were run down from the fevers raging on these unsanitary
shores, and quite ill himself, he was unable to
weigh anchor until March 17.
Meanwhile, fearing that Dumont d'Urville wasn't
abreast of Dillon's activities, the French government
sent a sloop of war to Vanikoro, the Bayonnaise
under Commander Legoarant de Tromelin, who had been
stationed on the American west coast. Dropping anchor
before Vanikoro a few months after the new Astrolabe's
departure, the Bayonnaise didn't find any additional
evidence but verified that the savages hadn't disturbed
the memorial honoring the Count de La Pérouse.
This is the substance of the account I gave Captain
"So," he said to me, "the castaways built a third
ship on Vanikoro Island, and to this day, nobody
knows where it went and perished?"
Captain Nemo didn't reply but signaled me to follow
him to the main lounge. The Nautilus sank a few
meters beneath the waves, and the panels opened.
I rushed to the window and saw crusts of coral:
fungus coral, siphonula coral, alcyon coral, sea
anemone from the genus Caryophylia, plus myriads
of charming fish including greenfish, damselfish,
sweepers, snappers, and squirrelfish; underneath
this coral covering I detected some rubble the old
dredges hadn't been able to tear free-- iron stirrups,
anchors, cannons, shells, tackle from a capstan,
a stempost, all objects hailing from the wrecked
ships and now carpeted in moving flowers.
And as I stared at this desolate wreckage, Captain
Nemo told me in a solemn voice:
"Commander La Pérouse set out on December 7, 1785,
with his ships, the Compass and the Astrolabe. He
dropped anchor first at Botany Bay, visited the
Tonga Islands and New Caledonia, headed toward the
Santa Cruz Islands, and put in at Nomuka, one of
the islands in the Ha'apai group. Then his ships
arrived at the unknown reefs of Vanikoro. Traveling
in the lead, the Compass ran afoul of breakers on
the southerly coast. The Astrolabe went to its rescue
and also ran aground. The first ship was destroyed
almost immediately. The second, stranded to leeward,
held up for some days. The natives gave the castaways
a fair enough welcome. The latter took up residence
on the island and built a smaller craft with rubble
from the two large ones. A few seamen stayed voluntarily
in Vanikoro. The others, weak and ailing, set sail
with the Count de La Pérouse. They headed to the
Solomon Islands, and they perished with all hands
on the westerly coast of the chief island in that
group, between Cape Deception and Cape Satisfaction!"
"And how do you know all this?" I exclaimed.
"Here's what I found at the very site of that final
Captain Nemo showed me a tin box, stamped with the
coat of arms of France and all corroded by salt
water. He opened it and I saw a bundle of papers,
yellowed but still legible.
They were the actual military orders given by France's
Minister of the Navy to Commander La Pérouse, with
notes along the margin in the handwriting of King
"Ah, what a splendid death for a seaman!" Captain
Nemo then said. "A coral grave is a tranquil grave,
and may Heaven grant that my companions and I rest
in no other!"
The Torres Strait
DURING THE NIGHT of December 27-28, the Nautilus
left the waterways of Vanikoro behind with extraordinary
speed. Its heading was southwesterly, and in three
days it had cleared the 750 leagues that separated
La Pérouse's islands from the southeastern tip of
On January 1, 1868, bright and early, Conseil joined
me on the platform.
"Will master," the gallant lad said to me, "allow
me to wish him a happy new year?"
"Good heavens, Conseil, it's just like old times
in my office at the Botanical Gardens in Paris!
I accept your kind wishes and I thank you for them.
Only, I'd like to know what you mean by a 'happy
year' under the circumstances in which we're placed.
Is it a year that will bring our imprisonment to
an end, or a year that will see this strange voyage
"Ye gods," Conseil replied, "I hardly know what
to tell master. We're certainly seeing some unusual
things, and for two months we've had no time for
boredom. The latest wonder is always the most astonishing,
and if this progression keeps up, I can't imagine
what its climax will be. In my opinion, we'll never
again have such an opportunity."
"Besides, Mr. Nemo really lives up to his Latin
name, since he couldn't be less in the way if he
"True enough, Conseil."
"Therefore, with all due respect to master, I think
a 'happy year' would be a year that lets us see
"Everything, Conseil? No year could be that long.
But what does Ned Land think about all this?"
"Ned Land's thoughts are exactly the opposite of
mine," Conseil replied. "He has a practical mind
and a demanding stomach. He's tired of staring at
fish and eating them day in and day out. This shortage
of wine, bread, and meat isn't suitable for an upstanding
Anglo-Saxon, a man accustomed to beefsteak and unfazed
by regular doses of brandy or gin!"
"For my part, Conseil, that doesn't bother me in
the least, and I've adjusted very nicely to the
diet on board."
"So have I," Conseil replied. "Accordingly, I think
as much about staying as Mr. Land about making his
escape. Thus, if this new year isn't a happy one
for me, it will be for him, and vice versa. No matter
what happens, one of us will be pleased. So, in
conclusion, I wish master to have whatever his heart
"Thank you, Conseil. Only I must ask you to postpone
the question of new year's gifts, and temporarily
accept a hearty handshake in their place. That's
all I have on me."
"Master has never been more generous," Conseil replied.
And with that, the gallant lad went away.
By January 2 we had fared 11,340 miles, hence 5,250
leagues, from our starting point in the seas of
Japan. Before the Nautilus's spur there stretched
the dangerous waterways of the Coral Sea, off the
northeast coast of Australia. Our boat cruised along
a few miles away from that daunting shoal where
Captain Cook's ships wellnigh miscarried on June
10, 1770. The craft that Cook was aboard charged
into some coral rock, and if his vessel didn't go
down, it was thanks to the circumstance that a piece
of coral broke off in the collision and plugged
the very hole it had made in the hull.
I would have been deeply interested in visiting
this long, 360-league reef, against which the ever-surging
sea broke with the fearsome intensity of thunderclaps.
But just then the Nautilus's slanting fins took
us to great depths, and I could see nothing of those
high coral walls. I had to rest content with the
various specimens of fish brought up by our nets.
Among others I noted some long-finned albacore,
a species in the genus Scomber, as big as tuna,
bluish on the flanks, and streaked with crosswise
stripes that disappear when the animal dies. These
fish followed us in schools and supplied our table
with very dainty flesh. We also caught a large number
of yellow-green gilthead, half a decimeter long
and tasting like dorado, plus some flying gurnards,
authentic underwater swallows that, on dark nights,
alternately streak air and water with their phosphorescent
glimmers. Among mollusks and zoophytes, I found
in our trawl's meshes various species of alcyonarian
coral, sea urchins, hammer shells, spurred-star
shells, wentletrap snails, horn shells, glass snails.
The local flora was represented by fine floating
algae: sea tangle, and kelp from the genus Macrocystis,
saturated with the mucilage their pores perspire,
from which I selected a wonderful Nemastoma geliniaroidea,
classifying it with the natural curiosities in the
On January 4, two days after crossing the Coral
Sea, we raised the coast of Papua. On this occasion
Captain Nemo told me that he intended to reach the
Indian Ocean via the Torres Strait. This was the
extent of his remarks. Ned saw with pleasure that
this course would bring us, once again, closer to
The Torres Strait is regarded as no less dangerous
for its bristling reefs than for the savage inhabitants
of its coasts. It separates Queensland from the
huge island of Papua, also called New Guinea.
Papua is 400 leagues long by 130 leagues wide, with
a surface area of 40,000 geographic leagues. It's
located between latitude 0 degrees 19' and 10 degrees
2' south, and between longitude 128 degrees 23'
and 146 degrees 15'. At noon, while the chief officer
was taking the sun's altitude, I spotted the summits
of the Arfak Mountains, rising in terraces and ending
in sharp peaks.
Discovered in 1511 by the Portuguese Francisco Serrano,
these shores were successively visited by Don Jorge
de Meneses in 1526, by Juan de Grijalva in 1527,
by the Spanish general Alvaro de Saavedra in 1528,
by Inigo Ortiz in 1545, by the Dutchman Schouten
in 1616, by Nicolas Sruick in 1753, by Tasman, Dampier,
Fumel, Carteret, Edwards, Bougainville, Cook, McClure,
and Thomas Forrest, by Rear Admiral d'Entrecasteaux
in 1792, by Louis-Isidore Duperrey in 1823, and
by Captain Dumont d'Urville in 1827. "It's the heartland
of the blacks who occupy all Malaysia," Mr. de Rienzi
has said; and I hadn't the foggiest inkling that
sailors' luck was about to bring me face to face
with these daunting Andaman aborigines.
So the Nautilus hove before the entrance to the
world's most dangerous strait, a passageway that
even the boldest navigators hesitated to clear:
the strait that Luis Vaez de Torres faced on returning
from the South Seas in Melanesia, the strait in
which sloops of war under Captain Dumont d'Urville
ran aground in 1840 and nearly miscarried with all
hands. And even the Nautilus, rising superior to
every danger in the sea, was about to become intimate
with its coral reefs.
The Torres Strait is about thirty-four leagues wide,
but it's obstructed by an incalculable number of
islands, islets, breakers, and rocks that make it
nearly impossible to navigate. Consequently, Captain
Nemo took every desired precaution in crossing it.
Floating flush with the water, the Nautilus moved
ahead at a moderate pace. Like a cetacean's tail,
its propeller churned the waves slowly.
Taking advantage of this situation, my two companions
and I found seats on the ever-deserted platform.
In front of us stood the pilothouse, and unless
I'm extremely mistaken, Captain Nemo must have been
inside, steering his Nautilus himself.
Under my eyes I had the excellent charts of the
Torres Strait that had been surveyed and drawn up
by the hydrographic engineer Vincendon Dumoulin
and Sublieutenant (now Admiral) Coupvent-Desbois,
who were part of Dumont d'Urville's general staff
during his final voyage to circumnavigate the globe.
These, along with the efforts of Captain King, are
the best charts for untangling the snarl of this
narrow passageway, and I consulted them with scrupulous
Around the Nautilus the sea was boiling furiously.
A stream of waves, bearing from southeast to northwest
at a speed of two and a half miles per hour, broke
over heads of coral emerging here and there.
"That's one rough sea!" Ned Land told me.
"Abominable indeed," I replied, "and hardly suitable
for a craft like the Nautilus."
"That damned captain," the Canadian went on, "must
really be sure of his course, because if these clumps
of coral so much as brush us, they'll rip our hull
into a thousand pieces!"
The situation was indeed dangerous, but as if by
magic, the Nautilus seemed to glide right down the
middle of these rampaging reefs. It didn't follow
the exact course of the Zealous and the new Astrolabe,
which had proved so ill-fated for Captain Dumont
d'Urville. It went more to the north, hugged the
Murray Islands, and returned to the southwest near
Cumberland Passage. I thought it was about to charge
wholeheartedly into this opening, but it went up
to the northwest, through a large number of little-known
islands and islets, and steered toward Tound Island
and the Bad Channel.
I was already wondering if Captain Nemo, rash to
the point of sheer insanity, wanted his ship to
tackle the narrows where Dumont d'Urville's two
sloops of war had gone aground, when he changed
direction a second time and cut straight to the
west, heading toward Gueboroa Island.
By then it was three o'clock in the afternoon. The
current was slacking off, it was almost full tide.
The Nautilus drew near this island, which I can
see to this day with its remarkable fringe of screw
pines. We hugged it from less than two miles out.
A sudden jolt threw me down. The Nautilus had just
struck a reef, and it remained motionless, listing
slightly to port.
When I stood up, I saw Captain Nemo and his chief
officer on the platform. They were examining the
ship's circumstances, exchanging a few words in
their incomprehensible dialect.
Here is what those circumstances entailed. Two miles
to starboard lay Gueboroa Island, its coastline
curving north to west like an immense arm. To the
south and east, heads of coral were already on display,
left uncovered by the ebbing waters. We had run
aground at full tide and in one of those seas whose
tides are moderate, an inconvenient state of affairs
for floating the Nautilus off. However, the ship
hadn't suffered in any way, so solidly joined was
its hull. But although it could neither sink nor
split open, it was in serious danger of being permanently
attached to these reefs, and that would have been
the finish of Captain Nemo's submersible.
I was mulling this over when the captain approached,
cool and calm, forever in control of himself, looking
neither alarmed nor annoyed.
"An accident?" I said to him.
"No, an incident," he answered me.
"But an incident," I replied, "that may oblige you
to become a resident again of these shores you avoid!"
Captain Nemo gave me an odd look and gestured no.
Which told me pretty clearly that nothing would
ever force him to set foot on a land mass again.
Then he said:
"No, Professor Aronnax, the Nautilus isn't consigned
to perdition. It will still carry you through the
midst of the ocean's wonders. Our voyage is just
beginning, and I've no desire to deprive myself
so soon of the pleasure of your company."
"Even so, Captain Nemo," I went on, ignoring his
ironic turn of phrase, "the Na
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