Part 2 - Chapter 13
THE Nautilus was steadily pursuing its southerly course, following
the fiftieth meridian with considerable speed. Did he wish to reach. the pole? I
did not think so, for every attempt to reach that point had hitherto failed.
Again the season was far advanced, for, in the antarctic regions, March 13
corresponds with September 13 of northern regions, which begin at the
equinoctial season. On March 14 I saw floating ice in latitude 55°, merely pale
bits of debris from twenty to twenty-five feet long, forming banks over which
the sea curled. The Nautilus remained on the surface of the ocean. Ned
Land, who had fished in the arctic seas, was familiar with its icebergs: but
Conseil and I admired them for the first time. In the atmosphere toward the
southern horizon stretched a white dazzling band. English whalers have given it
the name of "ice blink." However thick the clouds may be, it is always
visible, and announces the presence of an ice pack or bank. Accordingly, larger
blocks soon appeared, whose brilliancy changed with the caprices of the fog.
Some of these masses showed green veins, as if long, undulating lines had been
traced with sulphate of copper; others resembled enormous amethysts with the
light shining through them. Some reflected the light of day upon a thousand
crystal facets. Others shaded with vivid calcareous reflections resembled a
perfect town of marble. The more we neared the south, the more these floating
islands, increased both in number and importance.
At the sixtieth degree of latitude, every pass had disappeared. But seeking
carefully, Captain Nemo soon found a narrow opening, through which he boldly
slipped, knowing, however, that it would close behind him. Thus, guided by this
clever hand, the Nautilus passed through all the ice with a precision
which quite charmed Conseil; icebergs or mountains, ice fields or smooth plains,
seeming to have no limits, drift ice or floating ice, packs, plains broken up,
called palchs when they are circular, and streams when they are made up of long
strips. The temperature was very low; the thermometer exposed to the air marked
two or three degrees below zero, but we were warmly clad with fur, at the
expense of the sea bear and seal. The interior of the Nautilus, warmed
regularly by its electric apparatus, defied the most intense cold. Besides, it
would only have been necessary to go some yards beneath the waves to find a more
bearable temperature. Two months earlier we should have had perpetual daylight
in these latitudes; but already we had three or four hours of night, and by and
by there would be six months of darkness in these circumpolar regions. On March
15 we were in the latitude of New Shetland and South Orkney. The captain told me
that formerly numerous tribes of seals inhabited them; but that English and
American whalers, in their rage for destruction, massacred both old and young;
thus where there was once life and animation, they had left silence and death.
About eight o'clock in the morning of March 16 the Nautilus, following
the fifty-fifth meridian, cut the antarctic polar circle. Ice surrounded us on
all sides, and closed the horizon. But Captain Nemo went from one opening to
another, still going higher. I cannot express my astonishment at the beauties of
these new regions. The ice took most surprising forms. Here the grouping formed
an Oriental town, with innumerable mosques and minarets; there a fallen city
thrown to the earth, as it were, by some convulsion of nature. The whole aspect
was constantly changed by the oblique rays of the sun, or lost in the grayish
fog amidst hurricanes of snow. Detonations and falls were heard on all sides,
great overthrows of icebergs, which altered the whole landscape like a diorama.
Often seeing no exit, I thought we were definitely prisoners; but instinct
guiding him at the slightest indication, Captain Nemo would discover a new pass.
He was never mistaken when he saw the thin threads of bluish water trickling
along the ice fields; and I had no doubt that he had already ventured into the
midst of these antarctic seas before.
On March 16, however, the ice fields absolutely blocked our road. It was not
the iceberg itself, as yet, but vast fields cemented by the cold. But this
obstacle could not stop Captain Nemo; he hurled himself against it with
frightful violence. The Nautilus entered the brittle mass like a wedge,
and split it with frightful crackings. It was the battering-ram of the ancients
hurled by infinite strength. The ice, thrown high in the air, fell like hail
around us. By its own power of impulsion our apparatus made a canal for itself;
sometimes carried away by its own impetus it lodged on the ice field, crushing
it with its weight, and sometimes buried beneath it, dividing it by a simple
pitching movement, producing large rents in it.
Violent gales assailed us at this time, accompanied by thick fogs, through
which, from one end of the platform to the other, we could see nothing. The wind
blew sharply from all points of the compass, and the snow lay in such hard heaps
that we had to break it with blows of a pickax. The temperature was always at
five degrees below zero; every outward part of the Nautilus was covered
with ice. A rigged vessel could never have worked its way there, for all the
rigging would have been entangled in the blocked-up gorges. A vessel without
sails, with electricity for its motive power, and wanting no coal, could alone
brave such high latitudes. At length, on March 18, after many useless assaults,
the Nautilus was positively blocked. It was no longer either streams,
packs, or ice fields, but an interminable and immovable barrier, formed by
mountains soldered together.
"An iceberg!" said the Canadian to me.
I knew that to Ned Land, as well as to all other navigators who had preceded
us, this was an inevitable obstacle. The sun appearing for an instant at noon,
Captain Nemo took an observation as near as possible which gave our situation at
51° 30' longitude and 67° 39' of south latitude. We had advanced one degree
more in this antarctic region. Of the liquid surface of the sea there was no
longer a glimpse. Under the spur of the Nautilus lay stretched a vast
plain, entangled with confused blocks. Here and there sharp points, and slender
needles rising to a height of two hundred feet; farther on a steep shore, hewn
as it were with an ax, and clothed with grayish tints; huge mirrors, reflecting
a few rays of sunshine half drowned in the fog. And over this desolate face of
Nature a stern silence reigned, scarcely broken by the flapping of the wings of
petrels and puffins. Everything was frozen- even the noise. The Nautilus
was then obliged to stop in its adventurous course amid these fields of ice. In
spite of our efforts in spite of the powerful means employed to break up the
ice, the Nautilus
remained immovable. Generally, when we can proceed no farther, we have return
still open to us; but here return was as impossible as advance, for every pass
had closed behind us; and for the few moments when we were stationary, we were
likely to be entirely blocked, which did, indeed, happen about two o'clock in
the afternoon, the fresh ice forming around its sides with astonishing rapidity.
I was obliged to admit that Captain Nemo was more than imprudent. I was on the
platform at that moment. The captain had been observing our situation for some
time past, when he said to me:
"Well, Sir, what do you think of this?"
"I think that we are caught, Captain."
"So, M. Aronnax, you really think that the Nautilus
cannot disengage itself?"
"With difficulty, Captain; for the season is already too far advanced
for you to reckon on the breaking up of the ice."
"Ah! Sir," said Captain Nemo, in an ironical tone, "you will
always be the same. You see nothing but difficulties and obstacles. I affirm
that not only can the Nautilus disengage itself, but also that it can go
"Farther to the south?" I asked, looking at the captain.
"Yes, Sir; it shall go to the Pole."
"To the Pole!" I exclaimed, unable to repress a gesture of
"Yes," replied the captain, coldly, "to the Antarctic Pole- to
that unknown point whence springs every meridian of the globe. You know whether
I can do as I please with the Nautilus!"
Yes, I knew that. I knew that this man was bold, even to rashness. But to
conquer those obstacles which bristled round the South Pole, rendering it more
inaccessible than the north, which had not yet been reached by the boldest
navigators- was it not a mad enterprise, one which only a maniac would have
conceived? It then came into my head to ask Captain Nemo if he had ever
discovered that pole which had never yet been trodden by a human creature?
"No, sir," he replied; "but we will discover it together. Where
others have failed, I will not fail. I have never yet led my Nautilus so
far into southern seas; but, I repeat, it shall go farther yet."
"I can well believe you, Captain," said I, in a slightly ironical
tone. "I believe you! Let us go ahead! There are no obstacles for us! Let
us smash this iceberg! Let us blow it up; and if it resists, let us give the Nautilus
wings to fly over it!"
"Over it, sir!" said Captain Nemo, quietly; "no, not over it,
but under it!"
"Under it!" I exclaimed, a sudden idea of the captain's projects
flashing upon my mind. I understood; the wonderful qualities of the Nautilus
were going to serve us in this superhuman enterprise.
"I see we are beginning to understand each other, Sir," said the
captain, half smiling. "You begin to see the possibility- I should say the
success- of this attempt. That which is impossible for an ordinary vessel, is
easy to the Nautilus. If a continent lies before the Pole, it must stop
before the continent; but if, on the contrary, the pole is washed by open sea,
it will go even to the Pole."
"Certainly," said I, carried away by the captain's reasoning;
"if the surface of the sea is solidified by the ice, the lower depths are
free by the providential law which has placed the maximum of density of the
waters of the ocean one degree higher than freezing point; and, if I am not
mistaken, the portion of this iceberg which is above the water, is as four to
one to that which is below"
"Very nearly, Sir; for one foot of iceberg above the sea there are three
below it. If these ice mountains are not more than 300 feet above the surface,
they are not more than 900 beneath. And what are 900 feet to the Nautilus?"
"It could even seek at greater depths that uniform temperature of sea
water, and there brave with impunity the thirty or forty degrees of surface
"Just so, Sir- just so," I replied, getting animated.
"The only difficulty," continued Captain Nemo, "is that of
remaining several days without renewing our provision of air."
"Is that all? The Nautilus has vast reservoirs; we can fill
them, and they will supply us with all the oxygen we want."
"Well thought of, M. Aronnax," replied the captain, smiling.
"But not wishing you to accuse me of rashness, I will first give you all my
"Have you any more to make?"
"Only one. It is possible, if the sea exists at the South Pole, that it
may be covered; and, consequently, we shall be unable to come to the
"Good, Sir! but do you forget that the Nautilus
is armed with a powerful spur, and could we not send it diagonally against
these fields of ice, which would open at the shock?"
"Ah, Sir, you are full of ideas today."
"Besides, Captain," I added, enthusiastically, "why should we
not find the sea open at the South Pole as well as at the North? The frozen
poles and the poles of the earth do not coincide, either in the southern or in
the northern regions; and, until it is proved to the contrary, we may suppose
either a continent or an ocean free from ice at these two points of the
"I think so too, M. Aronnax," replied Captain Nemo. "I only
wish you to observe that, after having made so many objections to my project,
you are now crushing me with arguments in its favor!"
The preparations for this audacious attempt now began. The powerful pumps of
the Nautilus were working air into the reservoirs and storing it at high
pressure. About four o'clock, Captain Nemo announced the closing of the panels
on the platform. I threw one last look at the massive iceberg which we were
going to cross. The weather was clear, the atmosphere pure enough, the cold very
great, being twelve degrees below zero; but the wind having gone down, this
temperature was not so unbearable. About ten men mounted the sides of the Nautilus,
armed with pickaxes to break the ice around the vessel, which was soon free. The
operation was quickly performed, for the fresh ice was still very thin. We all
went below. The usual reservoirs were filled with the newly liberated water, and
the Nautilus soon descended. I had taken my place with Conseil in the
saloon; through the open window we could see the lower beds of the southern
ocean. The thermometer went up, the needle of the compass deviated on the dial.
At about nine hundred feet, as Captain Nemo had forseen, we were floating
beneath the undulating bottom of the iceberg. But the Nautilus went
lower still- it went to the depths of four hundred fathoms. The temperature of
the water at the surface showed twelve degrees, it was now only eleven; we had
gained two. I need not say the temperature of the Nautilus
was raised by its heating apparatus to a much higher degree; every maneuver was
accomplished with wonderful precision.
"We shall pass it, if you please, Sir," said Conseil.
"I believe we shall," I said, in a tone of firm conviction.
In this open sea, the Nautilus had taken its course direct to the
pole, without leaving the fifty-second meridian. From 67° 30' to 90°,
twenty-two degrees and a half of latitude remained to travel; that is, about
five hundred leagues. The Nautilus kept up a mean speed of twenty-six
miles an hour- the speed of an express train. If that was kept up, in forty
hours we should reach the Pole.
For a part of the night the novelty of the situation kept us at the window.
The sea was lit with the electric lantern; but it was deserted; fishes did not
sojourn in these imprisoned waters; they found there only a passage to take them
from the Antarctic Ocean to the open polar sea. Our pace was rapid; we could
feel it by the quivering of the long steel body. About two in the morning, I
took some hours' repose, and Conseil did the same. In crossing the waist I did
not meet Captain Nemo: I supposed him to be in the pilot's cage. The next
morning, March 19, I took my post once more in the saloon. The electric log told
me that the speed of the Nautilus had been slackened. It was then going
toward the surface; but prudently emptying its reservoirs very slowly. My heart
beat fast. Were we going to emerge and regain the open polar atmosphere? No! A
shock told me that the Nautilus had struck the bottom of the iceberg,
still very thick, judging from the deadened sound. We had indeed
"struck," to use a sea expression, but in an inverse sense, and at a
thousand feet deep. This would give three thousand feet of ice above us; one
thousand being above the watermark. The iceberg was then higher than at its
borders- not a very reassuring fact.
Several times that day the Nautilus tried again, and every time it
struck the wall which lay like a ceiling above it. Sometimes it met with but
nine hundred yards, only two hundred of which rose above the surface. It was
twice the height it was when the Nautilus had gone under the waves. I
carefully noted the different depths, and thus obtained a submarine profile of
the chain as it was developed under the water. That night no change had taken
place in our situation. Still ice between four and five hundred yards in depth
It was evidently diminishing, but still what a thickness between us and the
surface of the ocean It was then eight. According to the daily custom on board
the Nautilus, its air should have been renewed four hours ago; but I did
not suffer much, although Captain Nemo had not yet made any demand upon his
reserve of oxygen. My sleep was painful that night; hope and fear besieged me by
turns: I rose several times. The groping of the Nautilus continued.
About three in the morning, I noticed that the lower surface of the iceberg was
only about fifty feet deep. One hundred fifty feet now separated us from the
surface of the waters. The iceberg was by degrees becoming an ice field, the
mountain a plain. My eyes never left the manometer. We were still rising
diagonally to the surface, which sparkled under the electric rays. The iceberg
was stretching both above and beneath into lengthening slopes; mile after mile
it was getting thinner. At length, at six in the morning of that memorable day,
March 19, the door of the saloon opened, and Captain Nemo appeared.
"The sea is open!" was all he said.
Part 2 - Chapter 14
The South Pole
I rushed on the platform. Yes! the open sea, with but a few scattered pieces
of ice and moving icebergs- a long stretch of sea; a world of birds in the air,
and myriads of fishes under those waters, which varied from intense blue to
olive green, according to the bottom. The thermometer marked three degrees
centigrade above zero. It was comparatively spring, shut up as we were behind
this iceberg, whose lengthened mass was dimly seen on our northern horizon.
"Are we at the Pole?" I asked the captain, with a beating heart.
"I do not know," he replied. "At noon I will take our
"But will the sun show himself through this fog?" said I, looking
at the leaden sky.
"However little it shows, it will be enough," replied the captain.
About ten miles south, a solitary island rose to a height of one hundred four
yards. We made for it, but carefully, for the sea might be strewn with banks.
One hour afterward we had reached it, two hours later we had made the round of
it. It measured four or five miles in circumference. A narrow canal separated it
from a considerable stretch of land, perhaps a continent, for we could not see
its limits. The existence of this land seemed to give some color to Maury's
hypothesis. The ingenious American has remarked, that between the south pole and
the sixtieth parallel, the sea is covered with floating ice of enormous size,
which is never met with in the North Atlantic. From this fact he has drawn the
conclusion that the antarctic circle incloses considerable continents, as
icebergs cannot form in open sea, but only on the coasts. According to these
calculations, the mass of ice surrounding the South Pole forms a vast cap, the
circumference of which must be, at least, 2,500 miles. But the Nautilus,
for fear of running aground, had stopped about three cables' length from a
strand over which reared a superb heap of rocks. The boat was launched; the
captain, two of his men bearing instruments, Conseil, and myself, were in it. It
was ten in the morning. I had not seen Ned Land. Doubtless the Canadian did not
wish to admit the presence of the south pole. A few strokes of the oar brought
us to the sand, where we ran ashore. Conseil was going to jump on to the land,
when I held him back.
"Sir," said I to Captain Nemo, "to you belongs the honor of
first setting foot on this land."
"Yes, Sir," said the captain; "and if I do not hesitate to
tread this South Pole, it is because, up to this time, no human being has left a
Saying this, he jumped lightly on to the sand. His heart beat with emotion.
He climbed a rock, sloping to a little promontory, and there, with his arms
crossed, mute and motionless, and with an eager look, he seemed to take
possession of these southern regions. After five minutes passed in this ecstasy,
he turned to us.
"When you like, Sir."
I landed, followed by Conseil, leaving the two men in the boat. For a long
way the soil was composed of a reddish, sandy stone, something like crushed
brick, scoriae, streams of lava, and pumice stones. One could not mistake its
volcanic origin. In some parts, slight curls of smoke emitted a sulphurous
smell, proving that the eternal fires had lost nothing of their expansive powers
though, having climbed a high acclivity, I could see no volcano for a radius of
several miles. We know that in those antarctic countries, James Ross found two
craters. the Erebus and Terror, in full activity, on meridian 167, latitude 77°
32'. The vegetation of this desolate continent seemed to me much restricted.
Some lichens of the species unsnea melanoxantha lay upon the black rocks; some
microscopic plants, rudimentary diatomas, a kind of cells, placed between two
quartz shells; long purple and scarlet fucus, supported on little swimming
bladders, which the breaking of the waves brought to the shore. These
constituted the meager flora of this region. The shore was strewn with mollusks,
little mussels, limpets, smooth bucards in the shape of a heart, and
particularly some clios, with oblong membranous bodies, the head of which was
formed of two rounded lobes. I also saw myriads of northern clios, one and a
quarter inches long, of which a whale would swallow a whole world at a mouthful;
and some charming pteropods, perfect sea butterflies, animating the waters on
the skirts of the shore.
Amongst other zoophytes, there appeared on the high bottoms some coral
shrubs, of that kind which, according to James Ross live in the antarctic seas
to the depth of more than 1,000 yards. Then there were little kingfishers,
belonging to the species procellaria pelagica, as well as a large number of
asteriads, peculiar to these climates, and starfish studding the soil. But where
life abounded most was in the air. There thousands of birds fluttered and flew
of all kinds, deafening us with their cries; others crowded the rocks, looking
at us as we passed by without fear, and pressing familiarly close by our feet.
There were penguins, so agile in the water, that they have been taken for the
rapid bonitos, heavy and awkward as they are on the ground; they were uttering
harsh cries, a large assembly, sober in gesture, but extravagant in clamor.
Among the birds I noticed the chionis, of the long-legged family, as large as
pigeons, white, with a short conical beak, and the eye framed in a red circle.
Conseil laid in a stock of them, for these winged creatures, properly prepared,
made an agreeable meat. Albatrosses passed in the air (the expanse of their
wings being at least four yards and a half), and justly called the vultures of
the ocean; some gigantic petrels, and some damiers, a kind of small duck, the
under part of whose body is black and white; then there were a whole series of
petrels, some whitish, with brown-bordered wings, others blue, peculiar to the
antarctic seas, and so oily, as I told Conseil, that the inhabitants of the
Faroe Islands had nothing to do before lighting them, but to put a wick in.
"A little more," said Conseil, "and they would be perfect
lamps! After that, we cannot expect Nature to have previously furnished them
About half a mile, farther on, the soil. was riddled with ruffs' nests, a
sort of laying ground, out of which many birds were issuing. Captain Nemo had
some hundreds hunted. They uttered a cry like the braying of an ass, were about
the size of a goose, slate color on the body, white beneath, with a yellow line
round their throats; they allowed themselves to be killed with a stone, never
trying to escape. But the fog did not lift, and at eleven the sun had not yet
shown itself. Its absence made me uneasy. Without it no observations were
possible. How then could we decide whether we had reached the pole? When I
rejoined Captain Nemo, I found him leaning on a piece of rock, silently watching
the sky. He seemed impatient and vexed. But what was to be done? This rash and
powerful man could not command the sun as he did the sea. Noon arrived without
the orb of day showing itself for an instant. We could not even tell its
position behind the curtain of fog; and soon the fog turned to snow.
"Till tomorrow," said the Captain, quietly, and we returned to the Nautilus
amid these atmospheric disturbances.
The tempest of snow continued till the next day. It was impossible to remain
on the platform. From the saloon, where I was taking notes of incidents
happening during this excursion to the polar continent, I could hear the cries
of petrels and albatrosses sporting in the midst of this violent storm. The Nautilus
did not remain motionless, but skirted the coast, advancing ten miles more to
the south in the half light left by the sun as it skirted the edge of the
horizon. The next day, March 20, the snow had ceased. The cold was a little
greater, the thermometer showing two degrees below zero. The fog was rising, and
I hoped that that day our observations might be taken. Captain Nemo not having
yet appeared, the boat took Conseil and myself to land. The soil was still of
the same volcanic nature; everywhere were traces of lava, scoriae, and basalt;
but the crater which had vomited them I could not see. Here, as lower down, this
continent was alive with myriads of birds. But their rule was now divided with
large troops of sea mammals, looking at us with their soft eyes. There were
several kinds of seals, some stretched on the earth, some on flakes of ice, many
going in and out of the sea. They did not flee at our approach, never having had
anything to do with man; and I reckoned that there were provisions there for
hundreds of vessels.
"Sir," said Conseil, "will you tell me the names of these
"They are seals and morses."
It was now eight in the morning. Four hours remained to us before the sun
could be observed with advantage. I directed our steps toward a vast bay cut in
the steep granite shore. There, I can aver that earth and ice were lost to sight
by the numbers of sea mammals covering them, and I involuntarily sought for old
Proteus, the mythological shepherd who watched these immense flocks of Neptune.
There were more seals than anything else, forming distinct groups, male and
female, the father watching over his family, the mother suckling her little
ones, some already strong enough to go a few steps. When they wished to change
their place, they took little jumps, made by the contraction of their bodies,
and helped awkwardly enough by their imperfect fin, which, as with the lamantin,
their congener, forms a perfect forearm. I should say that, in the water, which
is their element- the spine of these creatures is flexible- with smooth and
close skin and webbed feet, they swim admirably. In resting on the earth they
take the most graceful attitudes. Thus the ancients, observing their soft and
expressive looks, which cannot be surpassed by the most beautiful look a woman
can give, their clear voluptuous eyes, their charming positions, and the poetry
of their manners, metamorphosed them, the male into a triton and the female into
I made Conseil notice the considerable development of the lobes of the brain
in these interesting cetaceans. No mammal, except man, has such a quantity of
cerebral matter; they are also capable of receiving a certain amount of
education, are easily domesticated, and I think, with other naturalists, that,
if properly taught, they would be of great service as fishing dogs. The greater
part of them slept on the rocks or on the sand. Among these seals, properly so
called, which have no external ears (in which they differ from the otter, whose
ears are prominent), I noticed several varieties of stenorhynchi about three
yards long, with a white coat, bulldog heads, armed with teeth in both jaws,
four incisors at the top and four at the bottom, and two large canine teeth in
the shape of a "fleur de lis." Among them glided sea elephants, a kind
of seal, with short flexible trunks. The giants of this species measured twenty
feet round, and ten yards and a half in length; but they did not move as we
"These creatures are not dangerous?" asked Conseil.
"No; not unless you attack them. When they have to defend their young,
their rage is terrible, and it is not uncommon for them to break the fishing
boats to pieces."
"They are quite right," said Conseil.
"I do not say they are not."
Two miles farther on we were stopped by the promontory. which shelters the
bay from the southerly winds. Beyond it we heard loud bellowings such as a troop
of ruminants would produce.
"Good!" said Conseil; "a concert of bulls!"
"No; a concert of morses."
"They are fighting!"
"They are either fighting or playing."
We now began to climb the blackish rocks, amid unforeseen stumbles, and over
stones which the ice made slippery. More than once I rolled over at the expense
of my loins. Conseil, more prudent or more steady, did not stumble, and helped
me up, saying:
"If, Sir, you would have the kindness to take wider steps, you would
preserve your equilibrium better."
Arrived at the upper ridge of the promontory, I saw a vast white plain
covered with morses. They were playing among themselves, and what we heard were
bellowings of pleasure, not of anger.
As I passed near these curious animals, I could examine them leisurely, for
they did not move. Their skins were thick and rugged, of a yellowish tint,
approaching to red, their hair was short and scant. Some of them were four yards
and a quarter long. Quieter, and less timid than their congeners of the north,
they did not, like them, place sentinels round the outskirts of their
encampment. After examining this city of morses, I began to think of returning.
It was eleven o'clock, and if Captain Nemo found the conditions favorable for
observations, I wished to be present at the operation.
We followed a narrow pathway running along the summit of the steep shore. At
half after eleven we had reached the place where we landed. The boat had run
aground bringing the captain. I saw him standing on a block of basalt, his
instruments near him, his eyes fixed on the northern horizon, near which the was
then describing a lengthened curve. I took my place beside him, and waited
without speaking. Noon arrived, and, as before, the sun did not appear. It was a
fatality. Observations were still wanting. If not accomplished tomorrow, we must
give up all idea of taking any. We were indeed exactly at the twentieth of
March. Tomorrow, the twenty-first, would be the equinox; the sun would disappear
behind the horizon for six months, and with its disappearance the long polar
night would begin. Since the September equinox it had emerged from the northern
horizon, rising by lengthened spirals up to December 21. At this period, the
summer solstice of the southern regions, it had begun to descend and tomorrow
was to shed its last rays upon them. I communicated my fears and observations to
"You are right, M. Aronnax," said he; "if tomorrow I cannot
take the altitude of the sun, I shall not be able to do it for six months. But
precisely because chance has led me into these seas on March 21, my bearings
will be easy to take, if at twelve we can see the sun."
"Because then the orb of day describes such lengthened curves, that it
is difficult to measure exactly its height above the horizon, and grave errors
may be made with instruments."
"What will you do then?"
"I shall only use my chronometer," replied Captain Nemo. "If
tomorrow, March 21, the disk of the sun, allowing for refraction, is exactly cut
by the northern horizon, it will show that I am at the South Pole."
"Just so," said I. "But this statement is not mathematically
correct, because the equinox does not necessarily begin at noon."
"Very likely, Sir; but the error will not be a hundred yards, and we do
not want more. Till tomorrow then!"
Captain Nemo returned on board. Conseil and I remained to survey the shore,
observing and studying until five o'clock. Then I went to bed, not, however,
without invoking, like the Indian, the favor of the radiant orb. The next day,
March 21, at five in the morning, I mounted the platform. I found Captain Nemo
"The weather is lightening a little," said he. "I have some
hope. After breakfast we will go on shore, and choose a post for
That point settled, I sought Ned Land. I wanted to take him with me. But the
obstinate Canadian refused, and I saw that his taciturnity and his bad humor
grew day by day. After all I was. not sorry for his obstinacy under the
circumstances. Indeed, there were too many seals on shore, and we ought not to
lay such temptation in this unreflecting fisherman's way. Breakfast over, we
went on shore. The Nautilus
had gone some miles farther up in the night. It was a whole league from the
coast, above which reared a sharp peak about five hundred yards high. The boat
took with me Captain Nemo, two men of the crew, and the instruments, which
consisted of a chronometer a telescope, and a barometer.
While crossing, I saw numerous whales belonging to the three kinds peculiar
to the southern seas; the whale, or the English "right whale," which
has no dorsal fin; the "humpback," or balaenopteron, with reeved
chest, and large whitish fins, which, in spite of its name, do not form wings;
and the finback, of a yellowish brown, the liveliest of all the cetacea. This
powerful creature is heard a long way off when he throws to a great height
columns of air and vapor, which look like whirlwinds of smoke. These different
mammals were disporting themselves in troops in the quiet waters; and I could
see that this basin of the Antarctic Pole served as a place of refuge to the
cetacea too closely tracked by the hunters. the hunters. I also noticed long
whitish lines of salpae, a kind of gregarious mollusk, and large medusae
floating between the reeds.
At nine we landed; the sky was brightening, the clouds were flying to the
south, and the fog seemed to be leaving the cold surface of the waters. Captain
Nemo went toward the peak, which he doubtless meant to be his observatory. It
was a painful ascent over the sharp lava and the pumice stones, in an atmosphere
often impregnated with a sulphurous smell from the smoking cracks. For a man
unaccustomed to walk on land, the captain climbed the steep slopes with an
agility I never saw equaled, and which a hunter would have envied.
We were two hours getting to the summit of this peak, which was half porphyry
and half basalt. From thence we looked upon a vast sea, which, toward the north,
distinctly traced its boundary line upon the sky. At our feet lay fields of
dazzling whiteness. Over our heads a pale azure, free from fog. To the north the
disk of the sun seemed like a ball of fire, already horned by the cutting of the
horizon. From the bosom of the water rose sheaves of liquid jets by hundreds. In
the distance lay the Nautilus
like a cetacean asleep on the water. Behind us, to the south and east, an
immense country, and a chaotic heap of rocks and ice, the limits of which were
On arriving at the summit, Captain Nemo carefully took the mean height of the
barometer, for he would have to consider that in taking his observations. At a
quarter to twelve, the sun, then seen only by refraction, looked like a golden
disk shedding its last rays upon this deserted continent, and seas which never
man had yet plowed. Captain Nemo, furnished with a lenticular glass, which, by
means of a mirror, collected the refraction, watched the orb sinking below the
horizon by degrees, following a lengthened diagonal. I held the chronometer. My
heart beat fast. If the disappearance of the half disk of the sun coincided with
twelve o'clock on the chronometer, we were at the pole itself.
"Twelve!" I exclaimed.
"The South Pole!" replied Captain Nemo, in a grave voice, handing
me the glass, which showed the orb cut in equal parts by the horizon.
I looked at the last rays crowning the peak, and the shadows mounting by
degrees up its slopes. At that moment Captain Nemo, resting with his hand on my
"I, Captain Nemo, on this twenty-first day of March, 1868, have reached
the South Pole on the ninetieth degree; and I take possession of this part of
the globe, equal to one sixth of the known continents."
"In whose name, Captain?"
"In my own, Sir!"
Saying which, Captain Nemo unfurled a black banner, bearing an N in gold
quartered on its bunting. Then turning toward the orb of day, whose last rays
lapped the horizon of the sea, he exclaimed:
"Adieu, sun! Disappear, thou radiant orb! rest beneath this open sea,
and let a night of six months spread its shadow over my new domains!"
Part 2 - Chapter 15
Accident or Incident
The next day, March 22, at six in the morning, preparations for departure
were begun. The last gleams of twilight were melting into night. The cold was
great; the constellations shone with wonderful intensity. In the zenith
glittered that wondrous Southern Cross- the polar bear of antarctic regions. The
thermometer showed twelve degrees below zero, and, when the wind freshened, it
was most biting. Flakes of ice increased on the open water. The sea seemed
everywhere alike. Numerous blackish patches spread on the surface, showing the
formation of fresh ice.
Evidently the southern basin, frozen during the six winter months, was
absolutely inaccessible. What became of the whales in that time? Doubtless they
went beneath the icebergs, seeking more practicable seas. As to the seals and
morses, accustomed to live, in a hard climate, they remained on these icy
shores. These creatures have the instinct to break holes in the ice fields, and
to keep them open. To these holes they come for breath; when the birds, driven
away by the cold, have emigrated to the north, these sea mammals remain sole
masters of the polar continent. But the reservoirs were filling with water, and
the Nautilus was slowly descending. At 1,000 feet deep it stopped; its
screw beat the waves, and it advanced straight toward the north, at a speed of
fifteen miles an hour. Toward night it was already floating under the immense
body of the iceberg.
At three in the morning I was awakened by a violent shock. I sat up in my bed
and listened in the darkness, when I was thrown into the middle of the room. The Nautilus,
after having struck, had rebounded violently. I groped along the partition, and
by the staircase to the saloon, which was lit by the luminous ceiling. The
furniture was upset. Fortunately the windows were firmly set, and had held fast.
The pictures on the starboard side, from being no longer vertical, were clinging
to the paper, whilst those of the port side were hanging at least a foot from
the wall. The Nautilus
was lying on its starboard side perfectly motionless. I heard footsteps, and a
confusion of voices; but Captain Nemo did not appear. As I was leaving the
saloon, Ned Land and Conseil entered.
"What is the matter?" said I, at once.
"I came to ask you, Sir," replied Conseil.
"Confound it!" exclaimed the Canadian, "I know well enough the Nautilus
has struck; and judging by the way she lies, I do not think she will right
herself as she did the first time in Torres Straits."
"But," I asked, "has she at least come to the surface of the
"We do not know," said Conseil.
"It is easy to decide," I answered. I consulted the manometer. To
my great surprise it showed a depth of more than 180 fathoms. "What does
that mean?" I exclaimed.
"We must ask Captain Nemo," said Conseil.
"But where shall we find him?" said Ned Land.
"Follow me," said I to my companions.
We left the saloon. There was no one in the library. At the center staircase,
by the berths of the ship's crew, there was no one. I thought that Captain Nemo
must be in the pilot's cage. It was best to wait. We all returned to the saloon.
For twenty minutes we remained thus, trying to hear the slightest noise which
might be made on board the Nautilus, when Captain Nemo entered. He seemed
not to see us; his face, generally so impassive, showed signs of uneasiness. He
watched the compass silently, then the manometer; and going to the planisphere,
placed his finger on a spot representing the southern seas. I would not
interrupt him; but, some minutes later, when he turned toward me, I said, using
one of his own expressions in the Torres Straits:
"An incident, Captain?"
"No, Sir; an accident this time."
"Is the danger immediate?"
"The Nautilus has stranded?"
"And this has happened- how?"
"From a caprice of nature, not from the ignorance of man. Not a mistake
has been made in the working. But we cannot prevent equilibrium from producing
its effects. We may brave human laws, but we cannot resist natural ones."
Captain Nemo had chosen a strange moment for uttering this philosophical
reflection. On the whole, his answer helped me little.
"May I ask the cause of this accident?"
"An enormous block of ice, a whole mountain, has turned over." he
replied. "When icebergs are undermined at their base by warmer water or
reiterated shocks, their center of gravity rises, and the whole thing turns
over. This is what has happened; one of these blocks, as it fell, struck the Nautilus,
then gliding under its hull, raised it with irresistible force, bringing it into
beds which are not so thick, where it is lying on its side."
"But can we not get the Nautilus off by emptying its reservoirs,
that it may regain its equilibrium?"
"That, Sir, is being done at this moment. You can hear the pump working.
Look at the needle of the manometer; it shows that the Nautilus
is rising, but the block of ice is rising with it; and, until some obstacle
stops its ascending motion, our position cannot be altered."
Indeed, the Nautilus still held the same position to starboard;
doubtless it would right itself when the block stopped. But at this moment who
knows if we may not strike the upper part of the iceberg, and if we may not be
frightfully crushed between the two glassy surfaces? I reflected on all the
consequences of our position. Captain Nemo never took his eyes off the
manometer. Since the fall of the iceberg, the Nautilus had risen about a
hundred fifty feet, but it still made the same angle with the perpendicular.
Suddenly a slight movement was felt in the hold. Evidently it was righting a
little. Things in the saloon were sensibly returning to their normal position.
The partitions were nearing the upright. No one spoke. With beating hearts we
watched and felt the straightening. The boards became horizontal under our feet.
Ten minutes passed.
"At last we have righted!" I exclaimed.
"Yes," said Captain Nemo, going to the door of the saloon.
"But are we floating?" I asked.
"Certainly," he replied; "since the reservoirs are not empty;
and, when empty, the Nautilus must rise to the surface of the sea."
We were in open sea; but at a distance of about ten yards, on either side of
the Nautilus, rose a dazzling wall of ice. Above and beneath, the same
wall. Above, because the lower surface of the iceberg stretched over us like an
immense ceiling. Beneath, because the overturned block, having slid by degrees
had found a resting place on the lateral walls, which kept it in that position.
was really imprisoned in a perfect tunnel of ice more than twenty yards in
breadth, filled with quiet water. It was easy to get out of it by going either
forward or backward, and then make a free passage under the iceberg, some
hundreds of yards deeper. The luminous ceiling had been extinguished, but the
saloon was still resplendent with intense light. It was the powerful reflection
from the glass partition sent violently back to the sheets of the lantern. I
cannot describe the effect of the voltaic rays upon the great blocks so
capriciously cut; upon every angle, every ridge, every facet was thrown a
different light, according to the nature of the veins running through the ice; a
dazzling mine of gems, particularly of sapphires, their blue rays crossing with
the green of the emerald. Here and there were opal shades of wonderful softness,
running through bright spots like diamonds of fire, the brilliancy of which the
eye could not bear. The power of the lantern seemed increased a hundredfold,
like a lamp through the lenticular plates of a first-class lighthouse.
"How beautiful! how beautiful!" cried Conseil.
"Yes," I said, "it is a wonderful sight. Is it not, Ned?"
"Yes, confound it! Yes," answered Ned Land, "it is superb! I
am mad at being obliged to admit it. No one has ever seen anything like it; but
the sight may cost us dear. And if I must say all, I think we are seeing here
things which God never intended man to see."
Ned was right, it was too beautiful. Suddenly a cry from Conseil made me
"What is it?" I asked.
"Shut your eyes, Sir! do not look!" Saying which, Conseil clapped
his hands over his eyes.
"But what is the matter, my boy?"
"I am dazzled, blinded."
My eyes turned involuntarily toward the glass, but I could not stand the fire
which seemed to devour them. I understood what had happened. The Nautilus
had put on full speed. All the quiet luster of the ice walls was at once
changed into flashes of lightning. The fire from these myriads of diamonds was
blinding. It required some time to calm our troubled looks. At last the hands
were taken down.
"Faith, I should never have believed it," said Conseil.
It was then five in the morning; and at that moment a shock was felt at the
bows of the Nautilus. I knew that its spur had struck a block of ice. It
must have been a false maneuver, for this submarine tunnel, obstructed by
blocks, was not very easy navigation. I thought that Captain Nemo, by changing
his course, would either turn these obstacles, or else follow the windings of
the tunnel. In any case, the road before us could not be entirely blocked. But,
contrary to my expectations, the Nautilus
took a decided retrograde motion.
"We are going backward?" said Conseil.
"Yes," I replied. "This end of the tunnel can have no
"Then," said I, "the working is easy. We must go back again,
and go out at the southern opening. That is all."
In speaking thus, I wished to appear more confident than I really was. But
the retrograde motion of the Nautilus was increasing; and, reversing the
screw, it carried us at great speed.
"It be a hindrance," said Ned.
"What does it matter, some hours more or less, provided we get out at
"Yes," repeated Ned Land, "provided we do get out at
For a short time I walked from the saloon to the library. My companions were
silent. I soon threw myself on an ottoman, and took a book, which my eyes
overran mechanically. A quarter of an hour after, Conseil, approaching me, said,
"Is what you are reading very interesting, Sir?"
"Very interesting!" I replied.
"I should think so, Sir. It is your own book you are reading."
And indeed I was holding in my hand the work on the "Great Submarine
Depths." I did not even dream of it. I closed the book, and returned to my
walk. Ned and Conseil rose to go.
"Stay here, my friends," said I, detaining them. "Let us
remain together until we are out of this block."
"As you please," Conseil replied.
Some hours passed. I often looked at the instruments hanging from the
partition. The manometer showed that the Nautilus kept at a constant
depth of more than three hundred yards; the compass still pointed to the south;
the log indicated a speed of twenty miles an hour, which, in such a cramped
space, was very great. But Captain Nemo knew that he could not hasten too much,
and that minutes were worth ages to us. At twenty-five minutes past eight a
second shock took this time from behind. I turned pale. My companions were close
by my side. I seized Conseil's hand. Our looks expressed our feelings better
than words. At this moment the captain entered the saloon. I went up to him.
"Our course is barred southward?" I asked.
"Yes, Sir. The iceberg has shifted, and closed every outlet."
"We are blocked up, then?"
Part 2 - Chapter 16
Want of Air
Thus, around the Nautilus, above and below, was an impenetrable wall
of ice. We were prisoners to the iceberg. I watched the captain. His countenance
had resumed its habitual imperturbability.
"Gentlemen," he said, calmly, "there are two ways of dying in
the circumstances in which we are placed." (This inexplicable person had
the air of a mathematical professor lecturing to his pupils.) "The first is
to be crushed; the second is to die of suffocation. I do not speak of the
possibility of dying of hunger, for the supply of provisions in the Nautilus
will certainly last longer than we shall. Let us then calculate our
"As to suffocation, Captain," I replied, "that is not to be
feared, because our reservoirs are full."
"Just so; but they will only yield two days' supply of air. Now, for
thirty-six hours we have been hidden under the water, and already the heavy
atmosphere of the Nautilus requires renewal. In forty-eight hours our
reserve will be exhausted."
"Well, Captain, can we be delivered before forty-eight hours?"
"We will attempt it, at least, by piercing the wall that surrounds
"On which side?"
"Sound will tell us. I am going to run the Nautilus
aground on the lower bank, and my men will attack the iceberg on the side that
is least thick."
Captain Nemo went out. Soon I discovered by a hissing noise that the water
was entering the reservoirs. The Nautilus sank slowly, and rested on the
ice at a depth of 350 yards, the depth at which the lower bank was immersed.
"My friends," I said, "our situation is serious, but I rely on
your courage and energy."
"Sir," replied the Canadian, "I am ready to do anything for
the general safety."
"Good! Ned," and I held out my hand to the Canadian.
"I will add," he continued, "that being as handy with the
pickax as with the harpoon, if I can be useful to the captain, he can command my
"He will not refuse your help. Come, Ned!"
I led him to the room where the crew of the Nautilus
were putting on their cork jackets. I told the captain of Ned's proposal, which
he accepted. The Canadian put on his sea costume, and was ready as soon as his
companions. When Ned was dressed, I reentered the drawing-room, where the panes
of glass were open, and, posted near Conseil, I examined the ambient beds that
supported the Nautilus. Some instants after, we saw a dozen of the crew
set foot on the bank of ice, and among them Ned Land, easily known by his
stature. Captain Nemo was with them. Before proceeding to dig the walls, he took
the soundings, to be sure of working in the right direction. Long sounding lines
were sunk in the side walls, but after fifteen yards they were again stopped by
the thick wall. It was useless to attack it on the ceiling-like surface, since
the iceberg itself measured more than four hundred yards in height. Captain Nemo
then sounded the lower surface. There ten yards of wall separated us from the
water, so great was the thickness of the ice field. It was necessary, therefore
to cut from it a piece equal in extent to the water line of the Nautilus.
There were about six thousand cubic yards to detach, so as to dig a hole by
which we could descend to the ice field.
The work was begun immediately, and carried on with indefatigable energy.
Instead of digging round the Nautilus, which would have involved greater
difficulty, Captain Nemo had an immense trench made at eight yards from the port
quarter. Then the men set to work simultaneously with their screws, on several
points of its circumference. Presently the pickax attacked this compact matter
vigorously, and large blocks were detached from the mass. By a curious effect of
specific gravity, these blocks, lighter than water, fled, so to speak, to the
vault of the tunnel, that increased in thickness at the top in proportion as it
diminished at the base. But that mattered little, so long as the lower part grew
thinner. After two hours' hard work, Ned Land came in exhausted. He and his
comrades were replaced by new workers, whom Conseil and I joined. The second
lieutenant of the Nautilus superintended us. The water seemed singularly
cold, but I soon got warm handling the pickax. My movements were free enough,
although they were made under a pressure of thirty atmospheres.
When I reentered after working two hours, to take some food and rest, I found
a perceptible difference between the pure fluid with which the Rouquayrol engine
supplied me, and the atmosphere of the Nautilus, already charged with
carbonic acid. The air had not been renewed for forty-eight hours, and its
vivifying qualities were considerably enfeebled. However, after a lapse of
twelve hours, we had only raised a block of ice one yard thick, on the marked
surface, which was about six hundred cubic yards! Reckoning that it took twelve
hours to accomplish this much, it would take five nights and four days to bring
this enterprise to a satisfactory conclusion. Five nights and four days! and we
have only air enough for two days in the reservoirs!
"Without taking into account," said Ned, "that, even if we get
out of this infernal prison, we shall also be imprisoned under the iceberg, shut
out from all possible communication with the atmosphere." True enough! Who
could then foresee the minimum of time necessary for our deliverance? We might
be suffocated before the Nautilus could regain the surface of the waves?
Was it destined to perish in this ice tomb, with all those inclosed? The
situation was terrible. But everyone had looked the danger in the face, and each
was determined to do his duty to the last.
As I expected, during the night a new block a yard square was carried away,
and still farther sank the immense hollow. But in the morning when, dressed in
my cork jacket, I traversed the slushy mass at a temperature of six or seven
degrees below zero, I remarked that the side walls were gradually closing in.
The beds of water farthest from the trench, that were not warmed by the men's
mere work, showed a tendency to solidification. In presence of this new and
imminent danger, what would become of our chances of safety, and how hinder the
solidification of this liquid medium, that would burst the partitions of the Nautilus
I did not tell my companions of this new danger. What was the good of damping
the energy they displayed in the painful work of escape? But when I went on
board again, I told Captain Nemo of this grave complication.
"I know it," he said, in that calm tone which could counteract the
most terrible apprehensions. "It is one danger more; but I see no way of
escaping it; the only chance of safety is to go quicker than solidification. We
must be beforehand with it, that is all."
On this day for several hours I used my pickax vigorously. The work kept me
up. Besides, to work was to quit the Nautilus, and breathe directly the
pure air drawn from the reservoirs, and supplied by our apparatus, and to quit
the impoverished and vitiated atmosphere. Toward evening the trench was dug one
yard deeper. When I returned on board, I was nearly suffocated by the carbonic
acid with which the air was filled- ah! if we had only the chemical means to
drive away this deleterious gas. We had plenty of oxygen; all this water
contained a considerable quantity, and by dissolving it with our powerful piles,
it would restore the vivifying fluid. I had thought well over it; but of what
good was that, since the carbonic acid produced by our respiration had invaded
every part of the vessel? To absorb it, it was necessary to fill some jars with
caustic potash, and to shake them incessantly. Now this substance was wanting on
board, and nothing could replace it. On that evening, Captain Nemo ought to open
the taps of his reservoirs, and let some pure air into the interior of the Nautilus;
without this precaution, we could not get rid of the sense of suffocation.
The next day, March 26, I resumed my miner's work in beginning the fifth
yard. The side walls and the lower surface of the iceberg thickened visibly. It
was evident that they would meet before the Nautilus was able to
disengage itself. Despair seized me for an instant, my pickax nearly fell from
my hands. What was the good of digging if I must be suffocated, crushed by the
water that was turning into stone?- a punishment that the ferocity of the
savages even would not have invented! Just then Captain Nemo passed near me. I
touched his hand and showed him the walls of our prison. The wall to port had
advanced to at least four yards from the hull of the Nautilus. The
captain understood me, and signed to me to follow him. We went on board. I took
off my cork jacket, and accompanied him into the drawing-room.
"M. Aronnax, we must attempt some desperate means, or we shall be sealed
up in this solidified water as in cement."
"Yes; but what is to be done?"
"Ah! if my Nautilus were strong enough to bear this pressure
without being crushed!"
"Well?" I asked, not catching the captain's idea.
"Do you not understand," he replied, "that this congelation of
water will help us? Do you not see that, by its solidification, it would burst
through this field of ice that imprisons us, as, when it freezes, it bursts the
hardest stones? Do you not perceive that it would be an agent of safety instead
"Yes, Captain, perhaps. But whatever resistance to crushing the Nautilus
possesses, it could not support this terrible pressure, and would be flattened
like an iron plate."
"I know it, Sir. Therefore we must not reckon on the aid of nature, but
on our own exertions. We must stop this solidification. Not only will the side
walls be pressed together; but there is not ten feet of water before or behind
the Nautilus. The congelation gains on us on all sides."
"How long will the air in the reservoirs last for us to breathe on
The captain looked in my face. "After tomorrow they will be empty!"
A cold sweat came over me. However, ought I to have been astonished at the
answer? On March 22, the Nautilus. was in the open polar seas. We were at
26 degrees. For five days we had lived on the reserve on board. And what was
left of the respirable air must be kept for the workers. Even now, as I write,
my recollection is still so vivid, that an involuntary terror seizes me, and my
lungs seem to be without air. Meanwhile, Captain Nemo reflected silently, and
evidently an idea had struck him; but he seemed to reject it. At last, these
words escaped his lips:
"Boiling water!" he muttered.
"Boiling water?" I cried.
"Yes, Sir. We are inclosed in a space that is relatively confined. Would
not jets of boiling water, constantly injected by the pumps, raise the
temperature in this part, and stay the congelation?"
"Let us try it," I said, resolutely.
"Let us try, Professor."
The thermometer then stood at seven degrees outside. Captain Nemo took me to
the galleys, where the vast distillatory machines stood that furnished the
drinkable water by evaporation. They filled these with water, and all the
electric heat from the piles was thrown through the worms bathed in the liquid.
In a few minutes this water reached a hundred degrees. It was directed toward
the pumps, while fresh water replaced it in proportion. The heat developed by
the troughs was such that cold water, drawn up from the sea, after only having
gone through the machines, came boiling into the body of the pump. The injection
was begun, and three hours after the thermometer marked six degrees below zero
outside. One degree was gained. Two hours later, the thermometer only marked
"We shall succeed," I said to the captain, after having anxiously
watched the result of the operation.
"I think," he answered, "that we shall not be crushed. We have
no more suffocation to fear."
During the night the temperature of the water rose to one degree below zero.
The injections could not carry it to a higher point. But as the congelation of
the sea water produces, at least two degrees, I was at last reassured against
the dangers of solidification.
The next day, March 27, six yards of ice had been cleared, four yards only
remaining to be cleared away. There was yet forty-eight hours work. The air
could not be renewed in the interior of the Nautilus. And this day would
make it worse. An intolerable weight oppressed me. Toward three o'clock in the
evening, this feeling rose to a violent degree. Yawns dislocated my jaws. My
lungs panted as they inhaled this burning fluid, which became rarefied more and
more. A moral torpor took hold of me. I was powerless, almost unconscious. My
brave Conseil, though exhibiting the same symptoms and suffering in the same
manner, never left me. He took my hand and encouraged me, and I heard him
murmur, "Oh! if I could only not breathe, so as to leave more air for my
Tears came into my eyes on hearing him speak thus. If our situation to all
was intolerable in the interior, with what haste and gladness would we put on
our cork jackets to work in our turn! Pickaxes sounded on the frozen ice beds.
Our arms ached, the skin was torn off our hands. But what were these fatigues,
what did the wounds matter? Vital air came to the lungs! we breathed! we
All this time, no one prolonged his voluntary task beyond the prescribed
time. His task accomplished, each one handed in turn to his panting companions
the apparatus that supplied him with life. Captain Nemo set the example, and
submitted first to this severe discipline. When the time came, he gave up his
apparatus to another, and returned to the vitiated air on board, calm,
On that day the ordinary work was accomplished with unusual vigor. Only two
yards remained to be raised from the surface. Two yards only separated us from
the open sea. But the reservoirs were nearly emptied of air. The little that
remained ought to be kept for the workers; not a particle for the Nautilus.
When I went back on board, I was half suffocated. What a night! I know not how
to describe it. The next day my breathing was oppressed. Dizziness accompanied
the pain in my head, and made me like a drunken man. My companions showed the
same symptoms. Some of the crew had rattling in the throat.
On that day, the sixth of our imprisonment, Captain Nemo, finding the
pickaxes work too slowly, resolved to crush the ice bed that still separated us
from the liquid sheet. This man's coolness and energy never forsook him. He
subdued his physical pains by moral force.
By his orders the vessel was lightened, that is to say, raised from the ice
bed by a change of specific gravity. When it floated they towed it as to bring
it above the immense trench made on the level of the water line. Then, filling
his reservoirs with water, he descended and shut himself up in the hole.
Just then all the crew came on board, and the double door of communication
was shut. The Nautilus then rested on the bed of ice, which was not one
yard thick, and which the sounding leads had perforated in a thousand places.
The taps of the reservoirs were then opened, and a hundred cubic yards of water
was let in, increasing the weight of the Nautilus to 1,800 tons. We
waited, we listened, forgetting our sufferings in hope. Our safety depended on
this last chance. Notwithstanding the buzzing in my head, I soon heard the
humming sound under the hull of the Nautilus. The ice cracked with a
singular noise, like tearing paper, and the Nautilus
"We are off!" murmured Conseil in my ear.
I could not answer him. I seized his hand, and pressed it convulsively. All
at once, carried away by its frightful overcharge, the Nautilus
sank like a bullet under the waters; that is to say, it fell as if it was in a
vacuum. Then all the electric force was put on the pumps, that soon began to let
the water out of the reservoirs. After some minutes, our fall was stopped. Soon,
too, the manometer indicated an ascending movement. The screw, going at full
speed, made the iron hull tremble to its very bolts, and drew us toward the
north. But if this floating under the iceberg is to last another day before we
reach the open sea, I shall be dead first.
Half stretched upon a divan in the library, I was suffocating. My face was
purple, my lips blue, my faculties suspended. I neither saw nor heard. All
notion of time had gone from my mind. My muscles could not contract. I do not
know how many hours passed thus, but I was conscious of the agony that was
coming over me. I felt as if I was going to die. Suddenly I came to. Some
breaths of air penetrated my lungs. Had we risen to the surface of the waves?
Were we free of the iceberg? No. Ned and Conseil, my two brave friends, were
sacrificing themselves to save me. Some particles of air still remained at the
bottom of one apparatus. Instead of using it, they had kept it for me, and while
they were being suffocated, they gave me life drop by drop. I wanted to push
back the thing; they held my hands, and for some moments I breathed freely.
I looked at the clock; it was eleven in the morning. It ought to be March 28.
The Nautilus went at a frightful pace, forty miles an hour. It literally
tore through the water. Where was Captain Nemo? Had he succumbed? Were his
companions dead with him? At the moment, the manometer indicated that we were
not more than twenty feet from the surface. A mere plate of ice separated us
from the atmosphere, could we not break it? Perhaps. In any case the Nautilus
was going to attempt it. I felt that it was in an oblique position, lowering the
stern, and raising the bows. The introduction of water had been the means of
disturbing its equilibrium. Then, impelled by its powerful screw, it attacked
the ice field from beneath like a formidable battering-ram. It broke it by
backing and then rushing forward against the field, which gradually gave way;
and, at last, dashing suddenly against it, shot forward on the icy field, that
crushed beneath its weight. The panel was opened- one might say torn off- and
the pure air came in in abundance to all parts of the Nautilus.