Part 1 - Chapter 5
At a Venture
The voyage of the Abraham Lincoln was for a long time marked
by no special incident. But one circumstance happened which showed the wonderful dexterity
of Ned Land, and proved what confidence we might place in him.
June thirtieth the frigate spoke some American whalers, from whom we
learned that they knew nothing about the narwhal. But one of them, the captain of the Monroe,
knowing that Ned Land had shipped on board the Abraham Lincoln, begged for his help
in chasing a whale they had in sight. Commander Farragut, desirous of seeing Ned Land at
work, gave him permission to go on board the Monroe. And fate served our Canadian
so well that, instead of one whale, he harpooned two with a double blow, striking one
straight to the heart, and catching the other after some minutes' pursuit.
Decidedly, if the monster ever had to do with Ned Land's harpoon, I
would not bet in its favor.
The frigate skirted the southeast coast of America with great
rapidity. July third we were at the opening of the Strait of Magellan, level with Cape
Vierges. But Commander Farragut would not take a tortuous passage, but doubled Cape Horn.
The ship's crew agreed with him. And certainly it was possible that
they might meet the narwhal in this narrow pass. Many of the sailors affirmed that the
monster could not pass there, "that he was too big for that!"
July sixth, about three o'clock in the afternoon, the Abraham
Lincoln, at fifteen miles to the south, doubled the solitary island, this lost rock at
the extremity of the American continent, to which some Dutch sailors gave the name of
their native town, Cape Horn. The course was taken toward the northwest, and the next day
the screw of the frigate was at last beating the waters of the Pacific.
"Keep your eyes open!" called out the sailors.
And they were opened widely. Both eyes and glasses, a little
dazzled, it is true, by the prospect of two thousand dollars. had not an instant's repose.
Day and night they watched the surface of the ocean, and even nyctalopes, whose faculty of
seeing in the darkness multiplies their chances a hundredfold, would have had enough to do
to gain the prize.
I myself, for whom money had no charms, was not the least attentive
on board. Giving but few minutes to my meals, but a few hours to sleep, indifferent to
either rain or sunshine, I did not leave the poop of the vessel. Now leaning on the
netting of the forecastle, now on the taffrail, I devoured with eagerness the soft loam
which whitened the sea as far as the eye could reach; and how often have I shared the
emotion of the majority of the crew, when some capricious whale raised its black back
above the waves! The poop of the vessel was crowded in a moment. The cabins poured forth a
torrent of sailors and officers, each with heaving breast and troubled eye watching the
course of the cetacean. I looked. and looked, till I was nearly blind, whilst Conseil,
always phlegmatic, kept repeating in a calm voice:
"If, Sir, you would not squint so much, you would see
But vain excitement! the Abraham Lincoln checked its speed
and made for the animal signaled, a simple whale, or common cachalot, which soon
disappeared amidst a storm of execration.
But the weather was good. The voyage was being accomplished under
the most favorable auspices. It was then the bad season in Australia, the July of that
zone corresponding to our January in Europe; but the sea was beautiful and easily scanned
round a vast circumference.
July twentieth the tropic of Capricorn was cut by 105 degrees of
longitude, and the twenty-seventh of the same month we crossed the equator on meridian
110. This passed, the frigate took a more decided westerly direction, and scoured the
central waters of the Pacific. Commander Farragut thought, and with reason, that it was
better to remain in deep water, and keep clear of continents or islands, which the beast
itself seemed to shun (perhaps because there was not enough water for him! suggested the
greater part of the crew). The frigate passed at some distance from the Marquesas and the
Sandwich Islands, crossed the tropic of Cancer, and made for the China Seas. We were on
the theater of the last diversions of the monster; and to say truth, we no longer lived on
board. Hearts palpitated, fearfully preparing themselves for future incurable aneurism.
The entire ship's crew were undergoing a nervous excitement, of which I can give no idea:
they could not eat, they could not sleep - twenty times a day, a misconception or an
optical illusion of some sailor seated on the taffrail, would cause dreadful
perspirations, and these emotions, twenty times repeated, kept us in a state of excitement
so violent that a reaction was unavoidable.
And truly, reaction soon showed itself. For three months, during
which a day seemed an age, the Abraham Lincoln furrowed all the waters of the North
Pacific, running at whales, making sharp deviations from her course, veering suddenly from
one tack to another, stopping suddenly, putting on steam, and backing ever and anon at the
risk of deranging her machinery; and not one point of the Japanese or American coast was
The warmest partisans of the enterprise now became its most ardent
detractors. Reaction mounted from the crew to the captain himself, and, certainly, had it
not been for resolute determination on the part of Captain Farragut, the frigate would
have headed due southward. This useless search could not last much longer. The Abraham
Lincoln had nothing to reproach herself with; she had done her best to succeed. Never
had an American ship's crew shown more zeal or patience; its failure could not be placed
to their charge - there remained nothing but to return.
This was represented to the commander. The sailors could not hide
their discontent, and the service suffered. I will not say there was mutiny on board, but,
after a reasonable period of obstinacy, Captain Farragut (as Columbus did) asked for three
days' patience. If in three days the monster did not appear, the man at the helm should
give three turns of the wheel, and the Abraham Lincoln would make for the European
This promise was made on the second of November. It had the effect
of rallying the ship's crew. The ocean was watched with renewed attention. Each one wished
for a last glance in which to sum up his remembrance. Glasses were used with feverish
activity. It was a grand defiance given to the giant narwhal, and he could scarcely fail
to answer the summons and "appear."
Two days passed, the steam was at half pressure; a thousand schemes
were tried to attract the attention and stimulate the apathy of the animal in case it
should be met in those parts. Large quantities of bacon were trailed in the wake of the
ship, to the great satisfaction (I must say) of the sharks. Small craft radiated in all
directions round the Abraham Lincoln as she lay to, and did not leave a spot of the
sea unexplored. But the night of the fourth of November arrived without the unveiling of
this submarine mystery.
The next day, the fifth of November, at twelve, the delay would
(morally speaking) expire; after that time, Commander Farragut, faithful to his promise,
was to turn the course to the southeast and abandon forever the northern regions of the
The frigate was then in 31° 15' north latitude and 136° 42' east
longitude. The coast of Japan remained less than two hundred miles to leeward. Night was
approaching. They had just struck eight bells; large clouds veiled the face of the moon,
then in its first quarter. The sea undulated peaceably under the stern of the vessel.
At that moment I was leaning forward on the starboard netting.
Conseil, standing near me, was looking straight before him. The crew, perched in the
ratlines, examined the horizon, which contracted and darkened by degrees. Officers with
their night glasses scoured the growing darkness; sometimes the ocean sparkled under the
rays of the moon, which darted between two clouds, then all trace of light was lost in the
In looking at Conseil, I could see he was undergoing a little of the
general influence. At least I thought so. Perhaps for the first time his nerves vibrated
to a sentiment of curiosity.
"Come, Conseil," said I, "this is the last chance of
pocketing the two thousand dollars."
"May I be permitted to say, Sir," replied Conseil,
"that I never reckoned on getting the prize; and, had the government of the Union
offered a hundred thousand dollars, it would have been none the poorer."
"You are right, Conseil. It is a foolish affair after all, and
one upon which we entered too lightly. What time lost, what useless emotions! We should
have been back in France six months ago."
"In your little room, Sir," replied Conseil, "and in
your museum Sir; and I should have already classed all your fossils, Sir. And the
Babiroussa would have been installed in its cage in the Jardin des Plantes, and have drawn
all the curious people of the capital!"
"As you say, Conseil. I fancy we shall run a fair chance of
being laughed at for our pains."
"That's tolerably certain," replied Conseil, quietly;
"I think they will make fun of you, Sir. And, must I say it?" -
"Go on, my good friend."
"Well, Sir, you will only get your deserts."
"When one has the honor of being a savant as you are, Sir, one
should not expose oneself to" -
Conseil had not time to finish his compliment. In the midst of
general silence a voice had just been heard. It was the voice of Ned Land shouting:
"Look out there! the very thing we are looking for - on our
Part 1 - Chapter 6
At Full Steam
At this cry the whole ship's crew hurried toward the harpooner:
commander, officers, masters, sailors, cabin boys; even the engineers left their engines,
and the stokers their furnaces.
The order to stop her had been given, and the frigate now simply
went on by her own momentum. The darkness was then profound, and however good the
Canadian's eyes were, I asked myself how he had managed to see, and what he had been able
to see. My heart beat as if it would break. But Ned Land was not mistaken, and we all
perceived the object he pointed to. At two cables' lengths from the Abraham Lincoln,
on the starboard quarter, the sea seemed to be illuminated all over. It was not a mere
phosphoric phenomenon. The monster emerged some fathoms from the water, and then threw out
that very intense but inexplicable light mentioned in the report of several captains. This
magnificent irradiation must have been produced by an agent of great shining power.
The luminous part traced on the sea an immense oval, much elongated, the center of which
condensed a burning heat, whose overpowering brilliancy died out by successive gradations.
"It is only an agglomeration of phosphoric particles,"
cried one of the officers.
"No, Sir, certainly not," I replied. "Never did
pholades or salpae produce such a powerful light. That brightness is of an essentially
electrical nature. Besides, see, see! it moves; it is moving forward, backward, it is
darting toward us!"
A general cry arose from the frigate.
"Silence!" said the captain; "up with the helm,
reverse the engines."
The steam was shut off, and the Abraham Lincoln, beating to
port, described a semicircle.
"Right the helm, go ahead," cried the captain.
These orders were executed, and the frigate moved rapidly from the
I was mistaken. She tried to sheer off, but the supernatural animal
approached with a velocity double her own.
We gasped for breath. Stupefaction more than fear made us dumb and
motionless. The animal gained on us, sporting with the waves. It made the round of the
frigate, which was then making fourteen knots!- and enveloped it with its electric rings
like luminous dust. Then it moved away two or three miles, leaving a phosphorescent track,
like those volumes of steam that the express trains leave behind. All at once from the
dark line of the horizon whither it retired to gain its momentum, the monster rushed
suddenly toward the Abraham Lincoln with alarming rapidity, stopped suddenly about
twenty feet from the hull, and died out- not diving under the water, for its brilliancy
did not abate- but suddenly, and as if the source of this brilliant emanation was
exhausted. Then it reappeared on the other side of the vessel, as if it had turned and
slid under the hull. Any moment a collision might have occurred which would have been
fatal to us. However, I was astonished at the maneuvers of the frigate. She fled and did
On the captain's face, generally so impassive, was an expression of
"Mr. Aronnax," he said, "I do not know with what
formidable being I have to deal, and I will not imprudently risk my frigate in the midst
of this darkness. Besides, how attack this unknown thing, how defend oneself from it? Wait
for daylight, and the scene will change."
"You have no further doubt, Captain, of the nature of the
"No, Sir; it is evidently a gigantic narwhal, and an electric
"Perhaps," added I, "one can only approach it with a
gymnotus or a torpedo."
"Undoubtedly," replied the captain, "if it possesses
such dreadful power, it is the most terrible animal that ever was created. That is why,
Sir, I must be on my guard."
The crew were on their feet all night. No one thought of sleep. The Abraham
Lincoln, not being able to struggle with such velocity, had moderated its pace, and
sailed at half speed. For its part, the narwhal, imitating the frigate, let the waves rock
it at will, and seemed decided not to leave the scene of the struggle. Toward midnight,
however, it disappeared, or, to use a more appropriate term, it "died out" like
a large glowworm. Had it fled? One could only fear, not hope it. But at seven minutes to
one o'clock in the morning a deafening whistling was heard, like that produced by a body
of water rushing with great violence.
The captain, Ned Land, and I, were then on the poop, eagerly peering
through the profound darkness.
"Ned Land," asked the commander, "you have often
heard the roaring of whales?"
"Often, Sir, but never such whales the sight of which brought
me in two thousand dollars. If I can only approach within four harpoon lengths of
"But to approach it," said the commander, "I ought to
put a whaler at your disposal?"
"That will be trifling with the lives of my men."
"And mine too," simply said the harpooner.
Toward two o'clock in the morning, the burning light reappeared, not
less intense, about five miles to windward of the Abraham Lincoln. Notwithstanding
the distance, and the noise of the wind and sea, one heard distinctly the loud strokes of
the animal's tail, and even its panting breath. It seemed that, at the moment that the
enormous narwhal had come to take breath at the surface of the water, the air was engulfed
in its lungs, like the steam in the vast cylinders of a machine of two-thousand horse
"Hum!" thought I, "a whale with the strength of a
cavalry regiment would be a pretty whale!"
We were on the qui vive till daylight, and prepared for the
combat. The fishing implements were laid along the hammock nettings. The second lieutenant
loaded the blunderbusses, which could throw harpoons to the distance of a mile, and long
duck guns, with explosive bullets, which inflicted mortal wounds even to the most terrible
animals. Ned Land contented himself with sharpening his harpoon- a terrible weapon in his
At six o'clock, day began to break; and with the first glimmer of
light, the electric light of the narwhal disappeared. At seven o'clock the day was
sufficiently advanced, but a very thick sea fog obscured our view, and the best spyglasses
could not pierce it. That caused disappointment and anger.
I climbed the mizzenmast. Some officers were already perched on the
mastheads. At eight o'clock the fog lay heavily on the waves, and its thick scrolls rose
little by little. The horizon grew wider and clearer at the same time. Suddenly, just as
on the day before, Ned Land's voice was heard:
"The thing itself on the port quarter!" cried the
Every eye was turned toward the point indicated. There, a mile and a
half from the frigate, a long blackish body emerged a yard above the waves. Its tail,
violently agitated, produced a considerable eddy. Never did a caudal appendage beat the
sea with such violence. An immense track, of a dazzling whiteness, marked the passage of
the animal, and described a long curve.
The frigate approached the cetacean. I examined it thoroughly.
The reports of the Shannon and of the Helvetia had
rather exaggerated its size, and I estimated its length at only two hundred fifty feet. As
to its dimensions, I could only conjecture them to be admirably proportioned. While I
watched this phenomenon, two jets of steam and water were ejected from its vents, and rose
to the height of one hundred twenty feet, thus I ascertained its way of breathing. I
concluded definitely that it belonged to the vertebrate branch, class mammalia.
The crew waited impatiently for their chief's orders. The latter,
after having observed the animal attentively, called the engineer. The engineer ran to
"Sir," said the commander, "you have steam up?"
"Yes, Sir," answered the engineer.
"Well, make up your fires and put on all steam."
Three hurrahs greeted this order. The time for the struggle had
arrived. Some moments after, the two funnels of the frigate vomited torrents of black
smoke, and the bridge quaked under the trembling of the boilers.
The Abraham Lincoln, propelled by her powerful screw, went
straight at the animal. The latter allowed it to come within half a cable's length; then,
as if disdaining to dive, it took a little turn, and stopped a short distance off.
This pursuit lasted nearly three quarters of an hour, without the
frigate gaining two yards on the cetacean. It was quite evident that at that rate we
should never come up with it.
"Well, Mr. Land," asked the captain, "do you advise
me to put the boats out to sea?"
"No, Sir," replied Ned Land; "because we shall not
take that beast easily."
"What shall we do then?"
"Put on more steam if you can, Sir. With your leave, I mean to
post myself under the bowsprit, and if we get within harpooning distance, I shall throw my
"Go, Ned," said the captain. "Engineer, put on more
Ned Land went to his post. The fires were increased, the screw
revolved forty-three times a minute, and the steam poured out of the valves. We heaved the
log, and calculated that the Abraham Lincoln was going at the rate of eighteen and
a half miles an hour.
But the accursed animal swam, too, at the rate of eighteen and a
For a whole hour, the frigate kept up this pace, without gaining six
feet. It was humiliating for one of the swiftest sailors in the American navy. A stubborn
anger seized the crew; the sailors abused the monster, who, as before, disdained to answer
them; the captain no longer contented himself with twisting his beard- he gnawed it.
The engineer was again called.
"You have turned full steam on?"
"Yes, Sir," replied the engineer.
The speed of the Abraham Lincoln increased. Its masts
trembled down to their stepping holes, and the clouds of smoke could hardly find way out
of the narrow funnels.
They heaved the log a second time.
"Well?" asked the captain of the man at the wheel.
"Nineteen miles and three tenths, Sir."
"Clap on more steam."
The engineer obeyed. The manometer showed ten degrees. But the
cetacean grew warm itself, no doubt; for, without straining itself, it made nineteen and
three tenths miles.
What a pursuit No, I cannot describe the emotion that vibrated
through me. Ned Land kept his post, harpoon in hand. Several times the animal let us gain
upon it. "We shall catch it! we shall catch it!" cried the Canadian. But just as
he was going, to strike, the cetacean stole away with a rapidity that could not be
estimated at less than thirty miles an hour, and even during our maximum of speed, it
bullied the frigate, going round and round it. A cry of fury broke from, everyone!
At noon we were no further advanced than at eight o'clock in the
The captain then decided to take more direct means.
"Ah!" said he, "that animal goes quicker than the Abraham
Lincoln. Very well we will see whether it will escape these conical bullets. Send your
men to the forecastle, Sir!"
The forecastle gun was immediately loaded and slewed round. But the
shot passed some feet above the cetacean, which was half a mile off.
"Another more to the right," cried the commander,
"and five dollars to whoever will hit that infernal beast."
An old gunner with a gray beard- that I can see now- with steady eye
and grave face, went up to the gun and took a long aim. A loud report was heard, with
which were mingled the cheers of the crew.
The bullet did its work; it hit the animal, but not fatally, and,
sliding off the rounded surface, was lost in two miles depth of sea.
The chase began again, and the captain, leaning toward me, said-
"I will pursue that beast till my frigate bursts up."
"Yes," answered I; "and you will be quite right to do
I wished the beast would exhaust itself, and not be insensible to
fatigue like a steam engine! But it was of no use. Hours passed, without its showing any
signs of exhaustion.
However, it must be said in praise of the Abraham Lincoln,
that she struggled on indefatigably. I cannot reckon the distance she made under three
hundred miles during this unlucky day, November sixth. But night came on, and overshadowed
the rough ocean.
Now I thought our expedition was at an end, and that we should never
again see the extraordinary animal. I was mistaken. At ten minutes to eleven in the
evening, the electric light reappeared three miles to windward of the frigate, as pure, as
intense as during the preceding night.
The narwhal seemed motionless; perhaps, tired with its day's work,
it slept, letting itself float with the undulation of the waves. Now was a chance of which
the captain resolved to take advantage.
He gave his orders. The Abraham Lincoln kept up half steam,
and advanced. cautiously so as not to awake its adversary. It is no rare thing to meet in
the middle of the ocean whales so sound asleep that they can be successfully attacked, and
Ned Land had harpooned more than one during its sleep. The Canadian went to take his place
again under the bowsprit.
The frigate approached noiselessly, stopped at two cables' length
from the animal, and following its track. No one breathed; a deep silence reigned on the
bridge. We were not a hundred feet from the burning focus, the light of which increased
and dazzled our eyes.
At this moment, leaning on the forecastle bulwark, I saw below me
Ned Land grappling the martingale in one hand, brandishing his terrible harpoon in the
other, scarcely twenty feet from the motionless animal. Suddenly his arm straightened, and
the harpoon was thrown; I heard the sonorous stroke of the weapon, which seemed to have
struck a hard body. The electric light went out suddenly, and two enormous waterspouts
broke over the bridge of the frigate, rushing like a torrent from stem to stern,
overthrowing men, and breaking the lashing of the spars. A fearful shock followed, and,
thrown over the rail without having time to stop myself, I fell into the sea.
Part 1 - Chapter 7
An Unknown Species of Whale
This unexpected fall so stunned me that I have no clear recollection
of my sensations at the time. I was at first drawn down to a depth of about twenty feet. I
am a good swimmer (though without pretending to rival Byron or Edgar Poe, who were masters
of the art), and in that plunge I did not lose my presence of mind. Two vigorous strokes
brought me to the surface of the water. My first care was to look for the frigate. Had the
crew seen me disappear? Had the Abraham Lincoln veered round? Would the captain put
out a boat? Might I hope to be saved?
The darkness was intense. I caught a glimpse of a black mass
disappearing in the east, its beacon lights dying out in the distance. It was the frigate!
I was lost.
"Help, Help!" I shouted, swimming toward the Abraham
Lincoln in desperation.
My clothes encumbered me; they seemed glued to my body, and
paralyzed my movements.
I was sinking! I was suffocating!
This was my last cry. My mouth filled with water; I struggled
against being drawn down the abyss. Suddenly my clothes were seized by a strong hand, and
I felt myself quickly drawn up to the surface of the sea; and I heard, yes, I heard these
words pronounced in my ear:
"If master would be so good as to lean on my shoulder, master
would swim with much greater ease."
I seized with one hand my faithful Conseil's arm.
"Is it you?" said I, "you?"
"Myself," answered Conseil; "and waiting master's
"That shock threw you as well as me into the sea?"
"No; but being in my master's service, I followed him."
The worthy fellow thought that was but natural.
"And the frigate?" I asked.
"The frigate?" replied Conseil, turning on his back;
"I think that master had better not count too much on her."
"You think so?"
"I say that, at the time I threw, myself into the sea, I heard
the men at the wheel say, 'The screw and the rudder are broken.'"
"Yes, broken by the monster's teeth. It is the only injury the Abraham
Lincoln has sustained. But it is a bad lookout for us- she no longer answers her
"Then we are lost!"
"Perhaps so," calmly answered Conseil. "However, we
have still several hours before us, and one can do a great deal in some hours."
Conseil's imperturbable coolness set me up again. I swam more
vigorously; but, cramped by my clothes, stuck to me like a leaden weight, I felt great
difficulty in bearing up. Conseil saw this.
"Will master let me make a slit?" said he; and slipping an
open knife under my clothes, he ripped them up from top to bottom very rapidly. Then he
cleverly slipped them off me, while I swam for both of us.
Then I did the same for Conseil, and we continued to swim near to
Nevertheless, our situation was no less terrible. Perhaps our
disappearance had not been noticed; and if it had been, the frigate could not tack, being
without its helm. Conseil argued on this supposition, and laid his plans accordingly. This
phlegmatic boy was perfectly self-possessed. We then decided that, as our only chance of
safety was being picked up by the Abraham Lincoln's boats, we ought to manage so as
to wait for them as long as possible. I resolved then to husband our strength, so that
both should not be exhausted at the same time; and this is how we managed: while one of us
lay on his back, quite still, with arms crossed, and legs stretched out, the other would
swim and push him on in front. This towing business did not last more than ten minutes
each; and relieving each other thus, we could swim on for some hours, perhaps till
daybreak. Poor chancel but hope is so firmly rooted in the heart of man Moreover, there
were two of us. Indeed I declare (though it may seem improbable) if I sought to destroy
all hope, if I wished to despair, I could not.
The collision of the frigate with the cetacean had occurred about
eleven o'clock the evening before. I reckoned then we should have eight hours to swim
before sunrise, an operation quite practicable if we relieved each other. The sea, very
calm, was in our favor. Sometimes I tried to pierce the intense darkness that was only
dispelled by the phosphorescence caused by our movements. I watched the luminous waves
that broke over my hand, whose mirror-like surface was spotted with silvery rings. One
might have said that we were in a bath of quicksilver.
Near one o'clock in the morning, I was seized with dreadful fatigue.
My limbs stiffened under the strain of violent cramp. Conseil was obliged to keep me up,
and our preservation devolved on him alone. I heard the poor boy pant; his breathing
became short and hurried. found that he could not keep up much longer.
"Leave me! leave me!" I said to him.
"Leave my master? never!" replied he. "I would drown
Just then the moon appeared through the fringes of a thick cloud
that the wind was driving to the east. The surface of the sea glittered with its rays.
This kindly light reanimated us. My head got better again. I looked at all the points of
the horizon. I saw the frigate! She was five miles from us, and looked like a dark mass,
hardly discernible. But no boats!
I would have cried out. But what good would it have been at such a
distance My swollen lips could utter no sounds. Conseil could articulate some words, and I
heard him repeat at intervals, "Help! help!"
Our movements were suspended for an instant; we listened. It might
be only a singing in the ear, but it seemed to me as if a cry answered the cry from
"Did you hear?" I murmured.
And Conseil gave one more despairing call.
This time there was no mistake! A human voice responded to ours! Was
it the voice of another unfortunate creature, abandoned in the middle of the ocean, some
other victim of the shock sustained by the vessel? Or rather was it a boat from the
frigate, that was hailing us in the darkness?
Conseil made a last effort, and, leaning on my shoulder while I
struck out in a despairing effort, he raised himself half out of the water, then fell back
"What did you see?"
"I saw," murmured he; "I saw- but do not talk-
reserve all your strength!"
What had he seen? Then, I know not why, the thought of the monster
came into my head for the first time! But that voice? The time is past for Jonahs to take
refuge in whales' bellies! However, Conseil was towing me again. He raised his head
sometimes, looked before us, and uttered a cry of recognition, which was responded to by a
voice that came nearer and nearer. I scarcely heard it. My strength was exhausted; my
fingers stiffened; my hand afforded me support no longer; my mouth, convulsively opening,
filled with salt water. Cold crept over me. I raised my head for the last time, then I
At this moment a hard body struck me. I clung to it: then I felt
that I was being drawn up, that I was brought to the surface of the water, that my cheat
collapsed: I fainted.
It is certain that I soon came to, thanks to the vigorous rubbings
that I received. I half opened my eyes.
"Conseil!" I murmured.
"Does master call me?" asked Conseil.
Just then, by the waning light of the moon, which was sinking down
to the horizon, I saw a face which was not Conseil's, and which I immediately recognized.
"Ned!" I cried.
"The same, Sir, who is seeking his prize!" replied the
"Were you thrown into the sea by the shock of the
"Yes, Professor; but more fortunate than you, I was able to
find a footing almost directly upon a floating island."
"Or, more correctly speaking, on our gigantic narwhal."
"Explain yourself, Ned!"
"Only I soon found out why my harpoon had not entered its skin
and was blunted."
"Why Ned, why?"
"Because, Professor, that beast is made of sheet iron."
The Canadian's last words produced a sudden revolution in my brain.
I wriggled myself quickly to the top of the being, or object, half out of the water, which
served us for a refuge. I kicked it. It was evidently a hard impenetrable body, and not
the soft substance that forms the bodies of the great marine mammalia. But this hard body
might be a bony carapace, like that of the antediluvian animals; and I should be free to
class this monster among amphibious reptiles, such as tortoises or alligators.
Well, no! the blackish back that supported me was smooth, polished,
without scales. The blow produced a metallic sound; and incredible though it may be, it
seemed, I might say, as if it was made of riveted plates.
There was no doubt about it! this monster, this natural phenomenon
that had puzzled the learned world, and overthrown and misled the imagination of seamen of
both hemispheres, was, it must be owned, a still more astonishing phenomenon, inasmuch as
it was a simply human construction.
We had no time to lose, however. We were lying upon the back of a
sort of submarine boat, which appeared (as far as I could judge) like a huge fish of
steel. Ned Land's mind was made up on this point. Conseil and I could only agree with him.
Just then a bubbling began at the back of this strange thing (which
was evidently propelled by a screw), and it began to move. We had only just time to seize
hold of the upper part, which rose about seven feet out of the, water, and happily its
speed was not great.
"As long as it sails horizontally," muttered Ned Land,
"I do not mind; but if it takes a fancy to dive, I would not give two straws for my
The Canadian might have said still less. It became really necessary
to communicate with the beings, whatever they were, shut up inside the machine. I searched
all over the outside for an aperture, a panel, or a manhole, to use a technical
expression; but the lines of the iron rivets, solidly driven into the joints of the iron
plates, were clear and uniform. Besides, the moon disappeared then, and left us in total
At last this long night passed. My indistinct remembrance prevents
my describing all the impressions it made. I can only recall one circumstance. During some
lulls of the wind and sea, I fancied I heard several times vague sounds, a sort of
fugitive harmony produced by distant words of command. What was then the mystery of this
submarine craft, of which the whole world vainly sought an explanation? What kind of
beings existed in this strange boat? What mechanical agent caused its prodigious speed?
Daybreak appeared. The morning mists surrounded us, but they soon
cleared off. I was about to examine the hull, which formed on deck a kind of horizontal
platform, when I felt it gradually sinking.
"Oh! confound it!" cried Ned Land, kicking the resounding
plate; "open, you inhospitable rascals!"
Happily the sinking movement ceased. Suddenly a noise, like iron
works violently pushed aside, came from the interior of the boat. One iron plate was
moved, a man appeared, uttered an odd cry, and disappeared immediately.
Some moments after, eight strong men, with masked faces, appeared
noiselessly, and drew us down into their formidable machine.
Part 1 Chapter 8
Mobilis in Mobili
This forcible abduction, so roughly carried out, was accomplished
with the rapidity of lightning. I shivered all over. Whom had we to deal with? No doubt
some new sort of pirates, who explored the sea in their own way.
Hardly had the narrow panel closed upon me, when I was enveloped in
darkness. My eyes, dazzled with the outer light, could distinguish nothing. I felt my
naked feet cling to the rings of an iron ladder. Ned Land and Conseil, firmly seized,
followed me. At the bottom of the ladder, a door opened, and shut after us immediately,
with a bang.
We were alone. Where, I could not say, hardly imagine. All was
black, and such a dense black that, after some minutes, my eyes had not been able to
discern even the faintest glimmer.
Meanwhile, Ned Land, furious at these proceedings, gave free vent to
"Confound it!" cried he, "here are people who come up
to the Scotch for hospitality. They only just miss being cannibals. I should not be
surprised at it, but I declare that they shall not eat me without my protesting."
"Calm yourself, friend Ned, calm yourself," replied
Conseil, quietly. "Do not cry out before you are hurt. We are not quite done for
"Not quite," sharply replied the Canadian, "but
pretty near, at all events. Things look black. Happily, my bowie knife I have still, and I
can always see well enough to use it. The first of these pirates who lays a hand on
"Do not excite yourself, Ned," I said to the harpooner,
"and do not compromise us by useless violence. Who knows but that they will not
listen to us? Let us rather try to find out where we are."
I groped about. In five steps I came to an iron wall, made of plates
bolted together. Then turning back I struck against a wooden table, near which were ranged
several stools. The boards of this prison were concealed under a thick mat of phormium,
which deadened the noise of the feet. The bare walls revealed no trace of window or door.
Conseil, going round the reverse way, met me, and we went back to the middle of the cabin,
which measured about twenty feet by ten. As to its height, Ned Land, in spite of his own
great height, could not measure it.
Half an hour had already passed without our situation being
bettered, when the dense darkness suddenly gave way to extreme light. Our prison was
suddenly lighted; that is to say, it became filled with a luminous matter, so strong that
I could not bear it at first. In its whiteness and intensity I recognized that electric
light which played round the submarine boat like a magnificent phenomenon of
phosphorescence. After shutting my eyes involuntarily, I opened them and saw that this
luminous agent came from a half globe, unpolished, placed in the roof of the cabin.
"At last one can see," cried Ned Land, who, knife in hand,
stood on the defensive.
"Yes," said I; "but we are still in the dark about
"Let master have patience," said the imperturbable
The sudden lighting of the cabin enabled me to examine it minutely.
It contained only a table and five stools. The invisible door might be hermetically
sealed. No noise was heard. All seemed dead in the interior of this boat. Did it move, did
it float on the surface of the ocean, or did it dive into its depths? I could not guess.
A noise of bolts was now heard, the door, opened, and two men
One was short, very muscular, broad-shouldered, with robust limbs,
strong head, an abundance of black hair, thick mustache, a quick, penetrating look, and
the vivacity which characterizes the population of southern France.
The second stranger merits a more detailed description. A disciple
of Gratiolet or Engel would have read his face like an open book. I made out his
prevailing qualities directly- self-confidence- because his head was well set on his
shoulders, and his black eyes looked around with cold assurance; calmness- for his skin,
rather pale, showed his coolness of blood; energy- evinced by the rapid contraction of his
lofty brows; and courage- because his deep breathing denoted great power of lungs.
Whether this person was thirty-five or fifty years of age, I could
not say. He was tall, had a large forehead, straight nose, a clearly cut mouth, beautiful
teeth, with fine taper hands, indicative of a highly nervous temperament. This man was
certainly the most admirable specimen I had ever met. One particular feature was his eyes,
rather far from each other, and which could take in nearly a quarter of the horizon at
This faculty (I verified it later) gave him a range of vision far
superior to Ned Land's. When this stranger fixed upon an object, his eyebrows met, his
large eyelids closed around so as to contract the range of his vision, and he looked as if
he magnified the objects lessened by distance, as if he pierced those sheets of water
opaque to our eyes, and as if he read the very depths of the seas.
The two strangers, with caps made from the fur of the sea otter, and
shod with sea boots of seals' skin, were dressed in clothes of a particular texture, which
allowed free movement of the limbs. The taller of the two, evidently the chief on board,
examined us with great attention, without saying a word; then turning to his companion,
talked with him in an unknown tongue. It was a sonorous, harmonious, and flexible dialect,
the vowels seeming to admit of very varied accentuation.
The other replied by a shake of the head, and added two or three
perfectly incomprehensible words. Then he seemed to question me by a look.
I replied in good French that I did not know his language; but he
seemed not to understand me, and my situation became more embarrassing.
"If master were to tell our story," said Conseil,
"perhaps these gentlemen may understand some words."
I began to tell our adventures, articulating each syllable clearly,
and without omitting one single detail. I announced our names and rank, introducing in
person Professor Aronnax, his servant Conseil, and master Ned Land, the harpooner.
The man with the soft calm eyes listened to me quietly, even
politely, and with extreme attention; but nothing in his countenance indicated that he had
understood my story. When I finished, he said not a word.
There remained one resource, to speak English. Perhaps they would
know this almost universal language. I knew it, as well as the German language- well
enough to read it fluently, but not to speak it correctly. But, anyhow, we must make
"Go on in your turn," I said to the harpooner; "speak
your best Anglo-Saxon, and try to do better than I."
Ned did not beg off, and recommenced our story.
To his great disgust, the harpooner did not seem to have made
himself more intelligible than I had. Our visitors did not stir. They evidently understood
neither the language of Arago nor of Faraday.
Very much embarrassed, after having vainly exhausted our
philological resources, I knew not what part to take, when Conseil said:
"If master will permit me, I will relate it in German."
But in spite of the elegant turns and good accent of the narrator,
the German language had no success. At last, nonplussed, I tried to remember my first
lessons, and to narrate our adventures in Latin, but with no better success. That last
attempt being of no avail, the two strangers exchanged some words in their unknown
language, and retired.
The door shut.
"It is an infamous shame," cried Ned Land, who broke out
for the twentieth time; "we speak to those rogues in French, English, German, and
Latin, and not one of them has the politeness to answer!"
"Calm yourself," I said to the impetuous Ned, "anger
will do no good."
"But do you see, Professor," replied our irascible
companion, "that we shall absolutely die of hunger in this iron cage?"
"Bah," said Conseil, philisophically, "we can hold
out some time yet."
"My friends," I said, "we must not despair. We have
been worse off than this. Do me the favor to wait a little before forming an opinion upon
the commander and crew of this boat."
"My opinion is formed," replied Ned Land, sharply.
"They are rascals."
"Good! and from what country?"
"From the land of rogues!"
"My brave Ned, that country is not clearly indicated on the map
of the world; but I admit that the nationality of the two strangers is hard to determine.
Neither English, French, nor German, that is quite certain. However, I am inclined to
think that the commander and his companion were born in low latitudes. There is southern
blood in them. But I cannot decide by their appearance whether they are Spaniards, Turks,
Arabians, or Indians. As to their language, it is quite incomprehensible."
"There is the disadvantage of not knowing all languages,"
said Conseil, "or the disadvantage of not having one universal language."
As he said these words, the door opened. A steward entered. He
brought us clothes, coats and trousers, made of a stuff I did not know. I hastened to
dress myself, and my companions followed my example. During that time, the steward- dumb,
perhaps deaf- had arranged the table, and laid three plates.
"This is something like," said Conseil.
"Bah," said the rancorous harpooner, "what do you
suppose they eat here? Tortoise liver, filleted shark, and beefsteaks from sea dogs."
"We shall see," said Conseil.
The dishes, of bell metal, were placed on the table, and we took our
places. Undoubtedly we had to do with civilized people, and had it not been for the
electric light which flooded us, I could have fancied I was in the dining room of the
Adelphi Hotel at Liverpool, or at the Grand Hotel in Paris. I must say, however, that
there was neither bread nor wine. The water was fresh and clear, but it was water, and did
not suit Ned Land's taste. Among the dishes which were brought to us, I recognized several
fish delicately dressed; but of some, although excellent, I could give no opinion, neither
could I tell to what kingdom they belonged, whether animal or vegetable. As to the dinner
service, it was elegant, and in perfect taste. Each utensil, spoon, fork, knife, plate,
had a letter engraved on it, with, a motto above it, of which this is an exact facsimile:
MOBILIS IN MOBILI.
The letter N was no doubt the initial of the name of the strange
person, who commanded at the bottom of the seas.
Ned and Conseil did not reflect much. They devoured the food, and I
did likewise. I was, besides, reassured as to our fate; and it seemed evident that our
hosts would not let us die of want.
However, everything has an end, everything passes away, even the
hunger of people who have not eaten for fifteen hours. Our appetites satisfied, we felt
overcome with sleep.
"Faith! I shall sleep well," said Conseil.
"So shall I," replied Ned Land.
My two companions stretched themselves on the cabin carpet, and were
soon sound asleep. For my own part, too many thoughts crowded my brain, too many insoluble
questions pressed upon me, too many fancies kept my eyes half open. Where were we? What
strange power carried us on? I felt- or rather fancied I felt- the machine sinking down to
the lowest beds of the sea. Dreadful nightmares beset me; I saw in these mysterious
asylums a world of unknown animals, among which this submarine boat seemed to be of the
same kind, living, moving, and formidable as they. Then my brain grew calmer, my
imagination wandered into vague unconsciousness, and I soon fell into a deep sleep.