Part 2 - Chapter 17
A Shifting Reef
How I got on to the platform, I have no idea; perhaps the
Canadian had carried me there. But I breathed, I inhaled the vivifying sea air. My two
companions were getting drunk with the fresh particles. The other unhappy men had been so
long without food, that they could not with impunity indulge in the simplest aliments that
were given them. We, on the contrary, had no need to restrain ourselves; we could draw
this air freely into our lungs, and it was the breeze, the breeze alone, that filled us
with this keen enjoyment.
"Ah!" said Conseil, "how delightful this
oxygen is! Master need not fear to breathe it. There is enough for everybody."
Ned Land did not speak, but he opened his jaws wide enough
to frighten a shark. Our strength soon returned, and when I looked round me, I saw we were
alone on the platform. The foreign seamen in the Nautilus were contented with the
air that circulated in the interior; none of them had come to in the open air.
The first words I spoke were words of gratitude and
thankfulness to my two companions. Ned and Conseil had prolonged my life during the last
hours of this long agony. All my gratitude could not repay such devotion.
"My friends," said I, "we are bound one to
the other for ever, and I am under infinite obligations to you."
"Which I shall take advantage of," exclaimed the
"What do you mean?" said Conseil.
"I mean that I shall take you with me when I leave
this infernal Nautilus."
"Well," said Conseil, "after all this, are
we going right?"
"Yes," I replied, "for we are going the way
of the sun, and here the sun is in the north."
"No doubt," said Ned Land; "but it remains
to be seen whether he will bring the ship into the Pacific or the Atlantic Ocean, that is,
into frequented or deserted seas."
I could not answer that question, and I feared that
Captain Nemo would rather take us to the vast ocean that touches the coasts of Asia and
America at the same time. He would thus complete the tour round the submarine world, and
return to those waters in which the Nautilus could sail freely. We ought, before
long, to settle this important point. The Nautilus went at a rapid pace. The polar
circle was soon passed, and the course shaped for Cape Horn. We were off the American
point, March 31, at seven o'clock in the evening. Then all our past sufferings were
forgotten. The remembrance of that imprisonment in the ice was effaced from our minds. We
only thought of the future. Captain Nemo did not appear again either in the drawing-room
or on the platform. The point shown each day on the planisphere, and marked by the
lieutenant, showed me the exact direction of the Nautilus.
Now, on that evening, it was evident, to my great
satisfaction, that we were going back to the north by the Atlantic. The next day, April 1,
when the Nautilus ascended to the surface, some minutes before noon, we sighted
land to the west. It was Terra del Fuego, which the first navigators named thus from
seeing the quantity of smoke that rose from the natives' huts. The coast seemed low to me,
but in the distance rose high mountains. I even though I had a glimpse of Mount Sarmiento,
that rises 2,070 yards above the level of the sea, with a very pointed summit, which,
according as it is misty or clear, is a sign of fine or of wet weather. At this moment,
the peak was clearly defined against the sky. The Nautilus, diving again under the
water, approached the coast, which was only some few miles off. From the glass windows in
the drawing-room, I saw long seaweeds, and gigantic fuci, and varech, of which the open
polar sea contains so many specimens, with their sharp polished filaments; they measured
about 300 yards in length-real cables, thicker than one's thumb; and having great
tenacity, they are often used as ropes for vessels.
Another weed known as velp, with leaves four feet long,
buried in the coral concretions, hung at the bottom. It served as nest and food for
myriads of crustacea and mollusks, crabs and cuttlefish. There seals and otters had
splendid repasts, eating the flesh of fish with sea vegetables, according to the English
fashion. Over this fertile and luxuriant ground the Nautilus passed with great
rapidity. Toward evening, it approached the Falkland group, the rough summits of which I
recognized the following day. The depth of the sea was moderate. On the shores, our nets
brought in beautiful specimens of seaweed, and particularly a certain fucus, the roots of
which were filled with the best mussels in the world. Geese and ducks fell by dozens on
the platform, and soon took their places in the pantry on board. With regard to fish, I
observed especially specimens of the goby species, some two feet long, all over white and
yellow spots. I admired also numerous medusae, and the finest of the sort, the crysaora,
peculiar to the sea about the Falkland Isles. I should have liked to preserve some
specimens of these delicate zoophytes: but they are only like clouds, shadows,
apparitions, that sink and evaporate, when out of their native element.
When the last heights of the Falklands had disappeared
from the horizon, the Nautilus sank to between twenty and twenty-five yards, and
followed the American coast. Captain Nemo did not show himself. Until April 3, we did not
quit the shores of Patagonia, sometimes under the ocean, sometimes at the surface. The Nautilus
passed beyond the large estuary formed by the mouth of the Plata, and was, on April 4,
fifty-six miles off Uraguay. Its direction was northwards, and followed the long windings
of the coast of South America. We had then made 16,000 miles since our embarkation in the
seas of Japan. About eleven o'clock in the morning the Tropic of Capricorn was crossed on
the thirty-seventh meridian, and we passed Cape Frio standing out to sea. Captain Nemo, to
Ned Land's great displeasure, did not like the neighborhood of the inhabited coasts of
Brazil, for we went at a giddy speed. Not a fish, not a bird of the swiftest kind could
follow us, and the natural curiosities of these seas escaped all observation.
This speed was kept up for several days, and in the
evening of April 9 we sighted the most westerly point of South America that forms Cape San
Roque. But then the Nautilus swerved again, and sought the lowest depth of a
submarine valley which is between this cape and Sierra Leone on the African coast. This
valley bifurcates to the parallel of the Antilles, and terminates at the north by the
enormous depression of 9,000 yards. In this place, the geological basin of the ocean
forms, as far as the Lesser Antilles, a cliff of three and a half miles perpendicular in
height, and at the parallel of the Cape Verde Islands, another wall not less considerable,
that encloses thus all the sunk continent of the Atlantic.
The bottom of this immense valley is dotted with some
mountains, that give to these submarine places a picturesque aspect. I speak, moreover,
from the manuscript charts that were in the library of the Nautilus- charts
evidently due to Captain Nemo's hand, and made after his personal observations. For two
days the desert and deep waters were visited by means of the inclined planes. The Nautilus
was furnished with long diagonal broadsides which carried it to all elevations. But, on
April 11, it rose suddenly, and land appeared at the mouth of the Amazon River, a vast
estuary, the embouchure of which is so considerable that it freshens the sea water for the
distance of several leagues.
The equator was crossed. Twenty miles to the west were the
Guianas, a French territory, on which we could have found an easy refuge; but a stiff
breeze was blowing, and the furious waves would not have allowed a single boat to face
them. Ned Land understood that, no doubt, for he spoke not a word about it. For my part, I
made no allusion to his schemes of flight, for I would not urge him to make an attempt
that must inevitably fail. I made the time pass pleasantly by interesting studies.
During the days of April 11 and 12, the Nautilus
did not leave the surface of the sea, and the net brought in a marvelous haul of
zoophytes, fish and reptiles. Some zoophytes had been fished up by the chain of the nets;
they were for the most part beautiful phyctallines, belonging to the actinidian family,
and among other species the phyctalis protexta, peculiar to that part of the ocean, with a
little cylindrical trunk, ornamented with vertical lines speckled with red dots, crowning
a marvelous blossoming of tentacles. As to the mollusks, they consisted of some I had
already observed- turritellas, olive porphyras, with regular lines intercrossed, with red
spots standing out plainly against the flesh; odd pteroceras, like petrified scorpions;
translucid hyaleas, argonauts, cuttlefish (excellent eating), and certain species of
calmars that naturalists of antiquity have classed amongst the flying-fish, and that serve
principally for bait for cod-fishing.
I had an opportunity of studying several species of fish
on these shores. Among the cartilaginous ones, petromyzons-pricka, a sort of eel, fifteen
inches long, with a greenish head, violet fins, gray-blue back, brown belly, silvered and
sown with bright spots, the pupil of the eye encircled with gold- a curious animal, that
the current of the Amazon had drawn to the sea, for they inhabit fresh water-tuberculated
streaks, with pointed snouts, and a long loose tail, armed with a long jagged sting.
Little sharks, a yard long, gray and whitish skin, and several rows of teeth, bent back,
that are generally known by the name of pantouffles; vespertilios, a kind of red isosceles
triangle, half a yard long, to which pectorals are attached by fleshy prolongations that
make them look like bats. Their horny appendage, situated near the nostrils, has given
them the name of sea-unicorns; lastly, some species of balistae, the curassavian, whose
spots were of a brilliant gold color, and the capriscus of clear violet, and with varying
shades like a pigeon's throat.
I end here this catalog, which is somewhat dry perhaps,
but very exact, with a series of bony fish that I observed in passing belonging to the
apteronotes, and whose snout is white as snow, the body of a beautiful black, marked with
a very long loose fleshy strip; odontognathes, armed with spikes; sardines; nine inches
long, glittering with a bright silver light; a species of mackerel provided with two anal
fins; centronotes of a blackish tint, that are fished for with torches long fish, two
yards in length, with flat flesh, white and firm, which, when they are fresh, taste like
eel, and when dry, like smoked salmon; labres, half red, covered with scales only at the
bottom of the dorsal and anal fins; chrysoptera, on which gold and silver blend their
brightness with that of the ruby and topaz; golden-tailed spares, the flesh of which is
extremely delicate, and whose phosphorescent properties betray them in the midst of the
waters; orange-colored spares with a long tongue; maigres, with gold caudal fins, dark
thorntails, anableps of Surinam, etc.
Notwithstanding this "etcetera," I must not omit
to mention fish that Conseil will long remember, and with good reason. One of our nets had
hauled up a sort of very flat rayfish, which, with the tail cut off, formed a perfect
disc, and weighed twenty ounces. It was white underneath, red above, with large round
spots of dark blue encircled with black, very glossy skin, terminating in a bilobed fin.
Laid out on the platform, it struggled, tried to turn itself by convulsive movements, and
made so many efforts, that one last turn had nearly sent it into the sea. But Conseil, not
wishing to let the fish go, rushed to it, and, before I could prevent him, had seized it
with both hands. In a moment he was overthrown, his legs in the air, and half his body
"Oh! master, master! come to me!"
It was the first time the poor boy had not spoken to me in
the third person. The Canadian and I took him up, and rubbed his contracted arms till he
became sensible. The unfortunate Conseil had attacked a crampfish of the most dangerous
kind, the cumana. This odd animal, in a medium conductor like water, strikes fish at
several yards' distance, so great is the power of its electric organ, the two principal
surfaces of which do not measure less than twenty-seven square feet.
The next day, April 12, the Nautilus approached the
Dutch coast, near the mouth of the Maroni. There several groups of sea-cows herded
together; they were manatees, that, like the dugong and the stellera, belong to the
sirenian order. These beautiful animals, peaceable and inoffensive, from eighteen to
twenty-one feet in length, weigh at least sixteen hundredweight. I told Ned Land and
Conseil that provident nature had assigned an important role to these mammalia. Indeed,
they, like the seals, are designed to graze on the submarine prairies, and thus destroy
the accumulation of weed that obstructs the tropical rivers.
"And do you know," I added, "what has been
the result since men have almost entirely annihilated this useful race? That the putrified
weeds have poisoned the air, and the poisoned air causes the yellow fever, that desolates
these beautiful countries. Enormous vegetations are multiplied under the torrid seas, and
the evil is irresistibly developed from the mouth of the Rio de la Plata to Florida. If we
are to believe Toussenel, this plague is nothing to what it would be if the seas were
cleared of whales and seals. Then, infested with poulps, medusae, and cuttlefish, they
would become immense centres of infection, since their waves would not possess 'these vast
stomachs that God had charged to infest the surface of the seas.'"
However, without disputing these theories, the crew of the
Nautilus took possession of half a dozen manatees. They provisioned the larders
with excellent fish, superior to beef and veal. This sport was not interesting. The
manatees allowed themselves to be hit without defending themselves. Several thousand
pounds of meat were stored up on board to be dried. On this day, a successful haul of fish
increased the stores of the Nautilus, so full of game were these seas. They were
echeneides belonging to the third family of the malacopterygians; their flattened discs
were composed of transverse movable cartilaginous plates, by which the animal was enabled
to create a vacuum, and to adhere to any object like a cupping-glass. The remora that I
had observed in the Mediterranean belongs to this species. But the one of which we are
speaking was the echeneis osteochera, peculiar to this sea.
The fishing over, the Nautilus neared the coast.
About here a number of sea turtles were sleeping on the surface of the water. It would
have been difficult to capture these precious reptiles, for the least noise awakens them,
and their solid shell is proof against the harpoon. But the echeneis effects their capture
with extraordinary precision and certainty. This animal is, indeed, a living fish-hook,
which would make the fortune of an inexperienced fisherman. The crew of the Nautilus
tied a ring to the tail of these fish, so large as not to encumber their movements, and to
this ring a long cord, lashed to the ship's side by the other end.
The echeneids, thrown into the sea, directly began their
game, and fixed themselves to the breastplate of the turtles. Their tenacity was such,
that they were torn rather than let go their hold. The men hauled them on board, and with
them the turtles to which they adhered. They took also several cacouannes a yard long,
which weighed 400 lbs. Their carapace covered with large horny plates, thin, transparent,
brown, with white and yellow spots, fetch a good price in the market. Besides, they were
excellent in an edible point of view, as well as the fresh turtles, which have an
exquisite flavor. This day's fishing brought to a close our stay on the shores of the
Amazon, and by nightfall the Nautilus had regained the high seas.
Part 2 - Chapter 18
For several days the Nautilus kept off from the
American coast. Evidently it did not wish to risk the tides of the Gulf of Mexico, or of
the sea of the Antilles. April 16, we sighted Martinique and Guadaloupe from a distance of
about thirty miles. I saw their tall peaks for an instant. The Canadian, who counted on
carrying out his projects in the Gulf, by either landing, or hailing one of the numerous
boats that coast from one island to another, was quite disheartened. Flight would have
been quite practicable, if Ned Land had been able to take possession of the boat without
the captain's knowledge. But in the open sea it could not be thought of. The Canadian,
Conseil, and I had a long conversation on this subject. For six months we had been
prisoners on board the Nautilus. We had travelled 17,000 leagues; and, as Ned Land
said, there was no reason why it should not come to an end. We could hope nothing from the
captain of the Nautilus, but only from ourselves. Besides, for some time past he
had become graver, more retired, less sociable. He seemed to shun me. I met him rarely.
Formerly, he was pleased to explain the submarine marvels to me; now, he left me to my
studies, and came no more to the saloon. What change had come over him? For what cause?
For my part, I did not wish to bury with me my curious and
novel studies. I had now the power to write the true book of the sea; and this book,
sooner or later, I wished to see daylight. Then again, in the water by the Antilles, ten
yards below the surface of the waters, by the open panels, what interesting products I had
to enter on my daily notes! There were, among other zoophytes, those known under the name
of physalis pelagica, a sort of large oblong bladder, with mother-of-pearl rays, holding
out their membranes to the wind, and letting their blue tentacles float like threads of
silk; charming medusae to the eye, real nettles to the touch, that distil a corrosive
fluid. There were also annelides, a yard and a half long, furnished with a pink horn, and
with 1,700 locomotive organs, that wind through the waters, and throw out in passing all
the light of the solar spectrum. There were, in the fish category, some Malabar rays,
enormous gristly things, ten feet long, weighing 600 pounds, the pectoral fin triangular
in the midst of a slightly humped back, the eyes fixed in the extremities of the face,
beyond the head, and which floated like weft, and looked sometimes like an opaque shutter
on our glass window. There were American balistae, which nature has only dressed in black
and white; gobies, with yellow fins and prominent jaw; mackerel sixteen feet long, with
short-pointed teeth, covered with small scales, belonging to the albicore species. Then,
in swarms, appeared, gray mullet, covered with stripes of gold from the head to the tail,
beating their resplendent fins, like masterpieces of jewelry, consecrated formerly to
Diana, particularly sought after by rich Romans, and of which the proverb says,
"Whoever takes them does not eat them."
Lastly, pomacanthe dorees, ornamented with emerald bands,
dressed in velvet and silk passed before our eyes like Veronese lords; spurred spari
passed with their pectoral fins; clupanodons fifteen inches long, enveloped in their
phosphorescent light; mullet beat the sea with their large jagged tail; red vendaces
seemed to mow the waves with their showy pectoral fins; and silvery selenes, worthy of
their name, rose on the horizon of the waters like so many moons with whitish rays. April
20, we had risen to a mean height of 1,500 yards. The land nearest us then was the
archipelago of the Bahamas. There rose high submarine cliffs covered with large weeds,
giant laminariae and fuci, a perfect espalier of hydrophytes worthy of a Titan world. It
was about eleven o'clock when Ned Land drew my attention to a formidable pricking, like a
sting of an ant, which was produced by means of large seaweeds.
"Well," I said, "these are proper caverns
for poulps, and I should not be astonished to see some of these monsters."
"What!" said Conseil; "cuttlefish, real
cuttlefish, of the cephalopod class?"
"No," I said; "poulps of huge
"I will never believe that such animals exist,"
"Well," said Conseil, with the most serious air
in the world; "I remember perfectly to have seen a large vessel drawn under the waves
by a cephalopod's arm."
"You saw that?" said the Canadian.
"With your own eyes?"
"With my own eyes."
"Where, pray, might that be?"
"At St. Malo," answered Conseil.
"In the port?" said Ned, ironically.
"No; in a church," replied Conseil.
"In a church!" cried the Canadian.
"Yes; friend Ned. In a picture representing the poulp
"Good!" said Ned Land, bursting out laughing.
"He is quite right," I said. "I have heard
of this picture; but the subject represented is taken from a legend, and you know what to
think of legends in the matter of natural history. Besides, when it is a question of
monsters, the imagination is apt to run wild. Not only is it supposed that these poulps
can draw down vessels, but a certain Olaus Magnus speaks of a cephalopod a mile long, that
is more like an island than an animal. It is also said that the Bishop of Nidros was
building an altar on an immense rock. Mass finished, the rock began to walk, and returned
to the sea. The rock was a poulp. Another bishop, Pontoppidan, speaks also of a poulp on
which a regiment of cavalry could maneuver. Lastly, the ancient naturalists speak of
monsters whose mouths were like gulfs, and which were too large to pass through the
Straits of Gibraltar."
"But how much is true of these stories?" asked
"Nothing, my friends; at least of that which passes
the limit of truth to get to fable or legend. Nevertheless, there must be some ground for
the imagination of the story-tellers. One cannot deny that poulps and cuttlefish exist of
a large species, inferior, however, to the cetaceans. Aristotle had stated the dimensions
of a cuttlefish as five cubits, or nine feet two inches. Our fishermen frequently see some
that are more than four feet long. Some skeletons of poulps are preserved in the museums
of Trieste and Montpellier, that measure two yards in length. Besides, according to the
calculations of some naturalists, one of these animals, only six feet long, would have
tentacles twenty-seven feet long. That would suffice to make a formidable monster."
"Do they fish for them in these days?" asked
"If they do not fish for them, sailors see them at
least. One of my friends, Captain Paul Bos of Havre, has often affirmed that he met one of
these monsters, of colossal dimensions, in the Indian seas. But the most astonishing fact,
and which does not permit of the denial of the existence of these gigantic animals,
happened some years ago, in 1861."
"What is the fact?" asked Ned Land.
"This is it. In 1861, to the north-east of Teneriffe,
very nearly in the same latitude we are in now, the crew of the despatch boat Alector
perceived a monstrous cuttlefish swimming in the waters. Captain Bouguer went near to the
animal, and attacked it with harpoons and guns, without much success, for balls and
harpoons glided over the soft flesh. After several fruitless attempts, the crew tried to
pass a slip-knot round the body of the mollusk. The noose slipped as far as the caudal
fins, there stopped. They tried then to haul it on board, but its weight was so
considerable that the tightness of the cord separated the tail from the body, and,
deprived of this ornament, he disappeared under the water."
"Indeed! is that a fact?"
"An indisputable fact, my good Ned. They proposed to
name this poulp 'Bouguer's cuttlefish.'"
"What length was it?" asked the Canadian.
"Did it not measure about six yards?" said
Conseil, who, posted at the window, was examining again the irregular windings of the
"Precisely," I replied.
"Its head," rejoined Conseil, "was it not
crowned with eight tentacles, that beat the water like a nest of serpents?"
"Had not its eyes, placed at the back of its head,
"And was not its mouth like a parrot's beak?"
"Very well! no offence to master," he replied,
quietly; "if this is not Bouguer's cuttlefish, it is, at least one of its
I looked at Conseil. Ned Land hurried to the window.
"What a horrible beast!" he cried.
I looked in my turn, and could not repress a gesture of
disgust. Before, my eyes was a horrible monster, worthy to figure in the legends of the
marvelous. It was an immense cuttlefish, being eight yards long. It swam crossways in the
direction of the Nautilus with great speed, watching us with its enormous staring
green eyes. Its eight arms, or rather feet, fixed to its head, that have given the name of
cephalopod to these animals, were twice as long as its body, and were twisted like the
furies' hair. One could see the 250 air-holes on the inner side of the tentacles. The
monster's mouth, a horned beak like a parrot's, opened and shut vertically. Its tongue, a
horned substance, furnished with several rows of pointed teeth, came out quivering from
this veritable pair of shears.
What a freak of nature, a bird's beak on a mollusk! Its
spindle-like body formed a fleshy mass that might weigh 4,000 to 5,000 lbs.; the varying
color changing with great rapidity, according to the irritation of the animal, passed
successively from livid gray to reddish brown. What irritated this mollusk? No doubt the
presence of the Nautilus, more formidable than itself, and on which its suckers or
its jaws had no hold. Yet, what monsters these poulps are! what vitality the Creator has
given them! what vigor in their movements! and they possess three hearts! Chance had
brought us in the presence of this cuttlefish, and I did not wish to lose the opportunity
of carefully studying this specimen of cephalopods. I overcame the horror that inspired
me; and, taking a pencil, began to draw it.
"Perhaps this is the same which the Alecto saw,"
"No," replied the Canadian; "for this is
whole, and the other had lost its tail."
"That is no reason," I replied. "The arms
and tails of these animals are reformed by redintegration; and in seven years, the tail of
Bouguer's cuttlefish has no doubt had time to grow."
By this time other poulps appeared at the port light. I
counted seven. They formed a procession after the Nautilus, and I heard their beaks
gnashing against the iron hull. I continued my work. These monsters kept in the water with
such precision, that they seemed immovable. Suddenly the Nautilus stopped. A shock
made it tremble in every plate.
"Have we struck anything?" I asked.
"In any case," replied the Canadian, "we
shall be free, for we are floating."
The Nautilus was floating, no doubt, but it did not
move. A minute passed. Captain Nemo, followed by his lieutenant, entered the drawing-room.
I had not seen him for some time. He seemed dull. Without noticing or speaking to us, he
went to the panel, looked at the poulps, and said something to his lieutenant. The latter
went out. Soon the panels were shut. The ceiling was lighted. I went towards the Captain.
"A curious collection of poulps?" I said.
"Yes, indeed, Mr. Naturalist," he replied;
"and we are going to fight them, man to beast."
I looked at him. I thought I had not heard aright.
"Man to beast?" I repeated.
"Yes, Sir. The screw is stopped. I think that the
horny jaws of one of the cuttlefish are entangled in the blades. That is what prevents our
"What are you going to do?"
"Rise to the surface, and slaughter this
"A difficult enterprise."
"Yes, indeed. The electric bullets are powerless
against the soft flesh, where they do not find resistance enough to go off. But we shall
attack them with the hatchet."
"And the harpoon, Sir," said the Canadian,
"if you do not refuse my help."
"I will accept it, Master Land."
"We will follow you," I said, and following
Captain Nemo, we went towards the central staircase.
There, about ten men with boarding hatchets were ready for
the attack. Conseil and I took two hatchets; Ned Land seized a harpoon. The Nautilus
had then risen to the surface. One of the sailors, posted on the top ladderstep, unscrewed
the bolts of the panels. But hardly were the screws loosed, when the panel rose with great
violence, evidently drawn by the suckers of a poulp's arm. Immediately one of these arms
slid like a serpent down the opening, and twenty others were above. With one blow of the
axe, Captain Nemo cut this formidable tentacle, that slid wriggling down the ladder. Just
as we were pressing one on the other to reach the platform, two other arms, lashing the
air, came down on the seaman placed before Captain Nemo, and lifted him up with
irresistible power. Captain Nemo uttered a cry, and rushed out. We hurried after him.
What a scene! The unhappy man, seized by the tentacle, and
fixed to the suckers, was balanced in the air at the caprice of this enormous trunk. He
rattled in his throat, he was stifled, he cried, "Help! help!" These words,
spoken in French, startled me! I had a fellow countryman on board, perhaps several! That
heartrending cry! I shall hear it all my life. The unfortunate man was lost. Who could
rescue him from that powerful pressure? However, Captain Nemo had rushed to the poulp, and
with one blow of the axe had cut through one arm. His lieutenant struggled furiously
against other monsters that crept on the flanks of the Nautilus. The crew fought
with their axes. The Canadian, Conseil, and I, buried our weapons in the fleshy masses; a
strong smell of musk penetrated the atmosphere. It was horrible!
For one instant, I thought the unhappy man, entangled with
the poulp, would be torn from its powerful suction. Seven of the eight arms had been cut
off. One only wriggled in the air, brandishing the victim like a feather. But just as
Captain Nemo and his lieutenant threw themselves on it, the animal ejected a stream of
black liquid We were blinded with it. When the cloud dispersed, the cuttlefish had
disappeared, and my unfortunate countryman with it. Ten or twelve poulps now invaded the
platform and sides of the Nautilus. We rolled pell-mell into the nest of serpents
that wriggled on the platform in the waves of blood and ink. It seemed as though these
slimy tentacles sprang up like the hydra's heads. Ned Land's harpoon, at each stroke, was
plunged into the staring eyes of the cuttlefish. But my bold companion was suddenly
overturned by the tentacles of a monster he had not been able to avoid.
Ah! how my heart beat with emotion and horror! The
formidable beak of a cuttlefish was open over Ned Land. The unhappy man would be cut in
two. I rushed to his succor. But Captain Nemo was before me; his axe disappeared between
the two enormous jaws, and miraculously saved the Canadian, rising, plunged his harpoon
deep into the triple heart of the poulp.
"I owed myself this revenge!" said the captain
to the Canadian.
Ned bowed without replying. The combat had lasted a
quarter of an hour. The monsters, vanquished and mutilated, left us at last, and
disappeared under the waves. Captain Nemo, covered with blood, nearly exhausted gazed upon
the sea that had swallowed up one of his companions, and great tears gathered in his eyes.
Part 2 - Chapter 19
The Gulf Stream
THIS terrible scene of April 20 none of us can ever
forget. I have written it under the influence of violent emotion. Since then I have
revised the recital; I have read it to Conseil and to the Canadian. They found it exact as
to facts, but insufficient as to effect. To paint such pictures, one must have the pen of
the most illustrious of our poets, the author of "The Toilers of the Deep."
I have said that Captain Nemo wept while watching the
waves; his grief was great. It was the second companion he had lost since our arrival on
board, and what a death! That friend, crushed, stifled, bruised by the dreadful arms of a
poulp pounded by his iron jaws, would not rest with his comrades in the peaceful coral
cemetery! In the midst of the struggle, it was the despairing cry uttered by the
unfortunate man that had torn my heart. The poor Frenchman, forgetting his conventional
language, had taken to his own mother tongue, to utter a last appeal! Amongst the crew of
the Nautilus, associated with the body and soul of the Captain, recoiling like him
from all contact with men, I had a fellow countryman. Did he alone represent France in
this mysterious association, evidently composed of individuals of diverse nationalities?
It was one of these insoluble problems that rose up unceasingly before my mind!
Captain Nemo entered his room, and I saw him no more for
some time. But that he was sad and irresolute I could see by the vessel, of which he was
the soul, and which received all his impressions. The Nautilus did not keep on in
its settled course; it floated about like a corpse at the will of the waves. It went at
random. He could not tear himself away from the scene of the last struggle, from this sea
that had devoured one of his men. Ten days passed thus. It was not till May 1 that the Nautilus
resumed its northerly course, after having sighted the Bahamas at the mouth of the Bahama
Canal. We were then following the current from the largest river to the sea, that has its
banks, its fish, and its proper temperatures. I mean the Gulf Stream. It is really a
river, that flows freely to the middle of the Atlantic, and whose waters do not mix with
the ocean waters. It is a salt river, salter than the surrounding sea. Its mean depth is
1,500 fathoms, its mean breadth ten miles. In certain places the current flows with the
speed of two miles and a half an hour. The body of its waters is more considerable than
that of all the rivers in the globe. It was on this ocean river that the Nautilus
This current carried with it all kinds of living things.
Argonauts, so common in the Mediterranean, were there in quantities. Of the gristly sort,
the most remarkable were the turbot, whose slender tails form nearly the third part of the
body, and that looked like large lozenges twenty-five feet long; also, small sharks a yard
long, with large heads, short rounded muzzles, pointed teeth in several rows, and whose
bodies seemed covered with scales. Among the bony fish I noticed some gray gobies,
peculiar to these waters; black giltheads, whose iris shone like fire; sirenes a yard
long, with large snouts thickly set with little teeth, that uttered little cries; blue
coryphaenes, in gold and silver; parrots, like the rainbows of the ocean, that could rival
in color the most beautiful tropical birds; blennies with triangular heads; bluish rhombs
destitute of scales; batrachoides covered with yellow transversal bands like a Greek T;
heaps of little gobies spotted with yellow; dipterodons with silvery heads and yellow
tails; several specimens of salmon, mugilomores slender in shape, shining with a soft
light that Lacepede consecrated to the service of his wife; and lastly, a beautiful fish,
the American knight, that, decorated with all the orders and ribbons, frequents the shores
of this great nation, that esteems orders and ribbons so little.
I must add that, during the night, the phosphorescent
waters of the Gulf Stream rivaled the electric power of our watchlight, especially in the
stormy weather that threatened us so frequently. May 8, we were still crossing Cape
Hatteras, at the height of the North Caroline. The width of the Gulf Stream there is
seventy-five miles, and its depth 210 yards. The Nautilus still went at random; all
supervision seemed abandoned. I thought that, under these circumstances, escape would be
possible. Indeed, the inhabited shores offered anywhere an easy refuge. The sea was
incessantly ploughed by the steamers that ply between New York or Boston and the Gulf of
Mexico, and overrun day and night by the little schooners coasting about the several parts
of the American coast. We could hope to be picked up.
It was a favorable opportunity, notwithstanding the thirty
miles that separated the Nautilus from the coasts of the Union. One unfortunate
circumstance thwarted the Canadian's plans. The weather was very bad. We were nearing
those shores where tempests are so frequent, that country of waterspouts and cyclones
actually engendered by the current of the Gulf Stream. To tempt the sea in a frail boat
was certain destruction. Ned Land owned this himself. He fretted, seized with nostalgia
that flight only could cure.
"Master," he said that day to me, "this
must come to an end. I must make a clean breast of it. This Nemo is leaving land and going
up to the north. But I declare to you, I have had enough of the South Pole, and I will not
follow him to the North."
"What is to be done, Ned, since flight is
impracticable just now?"
"We must speak to the captain," said he;
"you said nothing when we were in your native seas. I will speak, now we are in mine.
When I think that before long the Nautilus will be by Nova Scotia, and that there
near Newfoundland is a large bay, and into that bay the St. Lawrence empties itself, and
that the St. Lawrence is my river, the river by Quebec my native town,- when I think of
this, I feel furious, it makes my hair stand on end. Sir, I would rather throw myself into
the sea! I will not stay here! I am stifled!"
The Canadian was evidently losing all patience. His
vigorous nature could not stand this prolonged imprisonment. His face altered daily; his
temper became more surly. I knew what he must suffer, for I was seized with nostalgia
myself. Nearly seven months had passed without our having had any news from land; Captain
Nemo's isolation, his altered spirits, especially since the fight with the poulps, his
taciturnity, all made me view things in a different light.
"Well, Sir?" said Ned, seeing I did not reply.
"Well, Ned! do you wish me to ask Captain Nemo his
intentions concerning us?"
"Although he has already made them known?"
"Yes; I wish it settled finally. Speak for me, in my
name only, if you like."
"But I so seldom meet him. He avoids me."
"That is all the more reason for you to go to see
I went to my room. From thence I meant to go to Captain
Nemo's. It would not do to let this opportunity of meeting him slip. I knocked at the
door. No answer. I knocked again, then turned the handle. The door opened, I went in. The
captain was there. Bending over his worktable, he had not heard me. Resolved not to go
without having spoken, I approached him. He raised his head quickly, frowned, and said
roughly, "You here! What do you want?"
"To speak to you, Captain."
"But I am busy, Sir; am working. I leave you at
liberty to shut yourself up; cannot I be allowed the same?"
This reception was not encouraging; but I was determined
to hear and answer everything.
"Sir," I said, coldly, "I have to speak to
you on a matter that admits of no delay."
"What is that, Sir?", he replied, ironically.
"Have you discovered something that has escaped me, or has the sea delivered up any
We were at cross-purposes. But before I could reply, he
showed me an open manuscript on his table, and said, in a more serious tone, "Here,
M. Aronnax, is a manuscript written in several languages. It contains the sum of my
studies of the sea; and, if it please God, it shall not perish with me. This manuscript,
signed with my name, completed with the history of my life, will be shut up in a little
insubmersible case. The last survivor of all of us on board the Nautilus will throw
this case into the sea, and it will go whither it is borne by the waves."
This man's name! his history written by himself! His
mystery would then be revealed some day.
"Captain," I said, "I can but approve of
the idea that makes you act thus. The result of your studies must not be lost. But the
means you employ seem to me to be primitive. Who knows where the winds will carry this
case, and in whose hands it will fall? Could you not use some other means? Could not you,
or one of yours"-
"Never, Sir!" he said, hastily interrupting me.
"But I and my companions are ready to keep this
manuscript in store; and, if you will put us at liberty"-
"At liberty?" said the captain, rising.
"Yes, Sir; that is the subject on which I wish to
question you. For seven months we have been here on board, and I ask you today, in the
name of my companions, and in my own, if your intention is to keep us here always?"
"M. Aronnax, I will answer you today as I did seven
months ago: Whoever enters the Nautilus must never quit it."
"You impose actual slavery on us!"
"Give it what name you please."
"But everywhere the slave has the right to regain his
"Who denies you this right? Have I ever tried to
chain you with an oath?"
He looked at me with his arms crossed.
"Sir," I said, "to return a second time to
this subject will be neither to your nor to my taste; but, as we have entered upon it, let
us go through with it. I repeat, it is not only myself whom it concerns. Study is to me a
relief, a diversion, a passion that could make me forget everything. Like you, I am
willing to live obscure, in the frail hope of bequeathing one day, to future time, the
result of my labors. But it is otherwise with Ned Land. Every man, worthy of the name,
deserves some consideration. Have you thought that love of liberty, hatred of slavery, can
give rise to schemes of revenge in a nature like the Canadian's; that he could think,
attempt, and try"-
I was silenced; Captain Nemo rose.
"Whatever Ned Land thinks of, attempts, or tries,
what does it matter to me? I did not seek him! It is not for my pleasure that I keep him
on board! As for you, M. Aronnax, you are one of those who can understand everything, even
silence. I have nothing more to say to you. Let this first time you have come to treat of
this subject be the last; for a second time I will not listen to you."
I retired. Our situation was critical. I related my
conversation to my two companions.
"We know now," said Ned, "that we can
expect nothing from this man. The Nautilus is nearing Long Island. We will escape,
whatever the weather may be."
But the sky became more and more threatening. Symptoms of
a hurricane became manifest. The atmosphere was becoming white and misty. On the horizon
fine streaks of cirrhous clouds were succeeded by masses of cumuli. Other low clouds
passed swiftly by. The swollen sea rose in huge billows. The birds disappeared, with the
exception of the petrels, those friends of the storm. The barometer fell sensibly, and
indicated an extreme tension of the vapors. The mixture of the storm glass was decomposed
under the influence of the electricity that pervaded the atmosphere. The tempest burst on
May 18, just as the Nautilus was floating off Long Island, some miles from the port
of New York. I can describe this strife of the elements! for, instead of fleeing to the
depths of the sea, Captain Nemo, by an unaccountable caprice, would brave it at the
The wind blew from the south-west at first. Captain Nemo,
during the squalls, had taken his place on the platform. He had made himself fast, to
prevent being washed overboard by the monstrous waves. I had hoisted myself up, and made
myself fast also, dividing my admiration between the tempest and this extraordinary man
who was coping with it. The raging sea was swept by huge cloud-drifts, which were actually
saturated with the waves. The Nautilus, sometimes lying on its side sometimes
standing up like a mast, rolled and pitched terribly.
About five o'clock a torrent of rain fell that lulled
neither sea nor wind. The hurricane blew nearly forty leagues an hour It is under these
conditions that it overturns houses, breaks iron gates, displaces twenty-four pounders.
However, the Nautilus, in the midst of the tempet, confirmed the words of a clever
engineer, "There is no well-constructed hull that cannot defy the sea." This was
not a resisting rock; it was a steel spindle, obedient and movable, without rigging or
masts that braved its fury with impunity. However, I watched these raging waves
attentively. They measured fifteen feet in height, and 150 to 175 yards long, and their
speed of propagation was thirty feet per second. Their bulk and power increased with the
depth of the water. Such waves as these, at the Hebrides, have displaced a mass weighing
8,400 lbs. They are they which, in the tempest of December 23, 1864, after destroying the
town of Yeddo, in Japan, broke the same day on the shores of America.
The intensity of the tempest increased with the night. The
barometer, as in 1860 at Reunion during a cyclone, fell seven-tenths at the close of day.
I saw a large vessel pass the horizon struggling painfully. She was trying to lie to under
half steam, to keep up above the waves. It was probably one of the steamers of the line
from New York to Liverpool, or Havre. It soon disappeared in the gloom. At ten o'clock in
the evening the sky was on fire. The atmosphere was streaked with vivid lightning. I could
not bear the brightness of it; while the captain, looking at it, seemed to envy the spirit
of the tempest.
A terrible noise filled the air, a complex noise, made up
of the howls of the crushed waves, the roaring of the wind, and the peals of thunder. The
wind veered suddenly to all points of the horizon; and the cyclone, rising in the east,
returned after passing by the north, west, and south, in the inverse course pursued by the
circular storms of the southern hemisphere. Ah, that Gulf Stream! It deserves its name of
the King of Tempests. It is that which causes those formidable cyclones, by the difference
of temperature between its air and its currents. A shower of fire had succeeded the rain.
The drops of water were changed to sharp spikes. One would have thought that Captain Nemo
was courting a death worthy of himself, a death by lightning.
As the Nautilus, pitching dreadfully, raised its
steel spur in the air, it seemed to act as a conductor, and I saw long sparks burst from
it. Crushed and without strength, I crawled to the panel, opened it, and descended to the
saloon. The storm was then at its height. It was impossible to stand upright in the
interior of the Nautilus. Captain Nemo came down about twelve. I heard the
reservoirs filling by degrees, and the Nautilus sank slowly beneath the waves.
Through the open windows in the saloon I saw large fish terrified, passing like phantoms
in the water. Some were struck before my eyes. The Nautilus was still descending. I
thought that at about eight fathoms deep we should find a calm. But no the upper beds were
too violently agitated for that. We had to seek repose at more than twenty-five fathoms in
the bowels of the deep. But there, what quiet, what silence, what peace! Who could have
told that such a hurricane had been let loose on the surface of that ocean?
Part 2 - Chapter 20
From Latitude 47° 24' to Longitude 17° 28'
In consequence of the storm, we had been thrown eastward
once more. All hope of escape on the shores of New York or St. Lawrence
away; and poor Ned, in despair, had isolated himself like Captain Nemo.
Conseil and I,
however, never left each other. I said that the Nautilus had gone aside to the
east. I should have said (to be more exact), the northeast. For some days, it wandered
first on the surface, and then beneath it, amid those fogs so dreaded by sailors. What
accidents are due to these thick fogs! What shocks upon these reefs when the wind drowns
the breaking of the waves! What collisions between vessels, in spite of their warning
lights, whistles, and alarm bells! And the bottoms of these seas look like a field of
battle, where still lie all the conquered of the ocean; some old and already encrusted,
others fresh and reflecting from their iron bands and copperplates the brilliancy of our
On May 15, we were at the extreme south of the Bank of
Newfoundland. This bank consists of alluvia, or large heaps of organic matter, brought
either from the Equator by the Gulf Stream, or from the North Pole by the counter current
of cold water which skirts the American coast. There also are heaped up those erratic
blocks which are carried along by the broken ice; and close by, a vast charnel-house of
mollusks or zoophytes, which perish here by millions. The depth of the sea is not great at
Newfoundland- not more than some hundreds of fathoms; but towards the south is a
depression of 1,500 fathoms. There the Gulf Stream widens. It loses some of its speed and
some of its temperature, but it becomes a sea.
It was on May 17, about 500 miles from Heart's Content, at
a depth of more than 1,400 fathoms, that I saw the electric cable lying on the bottom.
Conseil, to whom I had not mentioned it, thought at first that it was a gigantic sea
serpent. But I undeceived the worthy fellow, and by way of consolation related several
particulars in the laying of this cable. The first one was laid in the years 1857 and
1858; but, after transmitting about 400 telegrams, would not act any longer. In 1863, the
engineers constructed another one, measuring 2,000 miles in length, and weighing 4,500
tons, which was embarked on the Great Eastern. This attempt also failed.
On May 25, the Nautilus, being at a depth of more
than 1,918 fathoms, was on the precise spot where the rupture occurred which ruined the
enterprise. It was within 638 miles of the coast of Ireland; and at half-past two in the
afternoon, they discovered that communication with Europe had ceased. The electricians on
board resolved to cut the cable before fishing it up, and at eleven o'clock at night they
had recovered the damaged part. They made another point and spliced it, and it was once
more submerged. But some days after it broke again, and in the depths of the ocean could
not be recaptured. The Americans, however, were not discouraged.
Cyrus W. Field, the bold promoter of the enterprise, as he
had sunk all his own fortune, set a new subscription on foot, which was at once answered,
and another cable was constructed on better principles. The bundles of conducting wires
were each enveloped in gutta-percha, and protected by a wadding of hemp, contained in a
metallic covering. The Great Eastern sailed on July 13, 1866. The operation worked well.
But one incident occurred. Several times in unrolling the cable they observed that nails
had been recently forced into it, evidently with the motive of destroying it. Captain
Anderson, the officers, and engineers, consulted together, and had it posted up that if
the offender was surprised on board, he would be thrown without further trial into the
sea. From that time the criminal attempt was never repeated.
On July 23, the Great Eastern was not more than 500 miles
from Newfoundland, when they telegraphed from Ireland news of the armistice concluded
between Prussia and Austria after Sadowa. On July 27, in the midst of heavy fogs, they
reached the port of Heart's Content. The enterprise was successfully terminated; and for
its first despatch, young America addressed old Europe in these words of wisdom so rarely
understood- "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward
I did not expect to find the electric cable in its
primitive state, such as it was on leaving the manufactory. The long serpent, covered with
the remains of shells, bristling with foraminiferae, was encrusted with a strong coating
which served as a protection against all boring mollusks. It lay quietly sheltered from
the motions of the sea, and under a favorable pressure for the transmission of the
electric spark which passes from Europe to America in .32 of a second. Doubtless this
cable will last for a great length of time, for they find that the gutta-percha covering
is improved by the sea water. Besides, on this level, so well chosen, the cable is never
so deeply submerged as to cause it to break. The Nautilus followed it to the lowest
depth, which was more than 2,212 fathoms, and there it lay without any anchorage; and then
we reached the spot where the accident had taken place in 1863. The bottom of the ocean
then formed a valley about 100 miles broad, in which Mont Blanc might have been placed
without its summit appearing above the waves. This valley is closed at the east by a
perpendicular wall more than 2,000 yards high. We arrived there on May 28, and the Nautilus
was then more than 120 miles from Ireland.
Was Captain Nemo going to land on the British Isles? No.
To my great surprise he made for the south, once more coming back towards European seas.
In rounding the Emerald Isle, for one instant I caught sight of Cape Clear, and the light
which guides the thousands of vessels leaving Glasgow or Liverpool. An important question
then arose in my mind. Did the Nautilus dare entangle itself in the Manche? Ned
Land, who had reappeared since we had been nearing land, did not cease to question me. How
could I answer? Captain Nemo remained invisible. After having shown the Canadian a glimpse
of American shores, was he going to show me the coast of France?
But the Nautilus was still going southward. On May
30, it passed in sight of the Land's End, between the extreme point of England and the
Scilly Isles, which were left to starboard. If he wished to enter the Manche he must go
straight to the east. He did not do so.
During the whole of May 31, the Nautilus described
a series of circles on the water, which greatly interested me. It seemed to be seeking a
spot it had some trouble in finding. At noon, Captain Nemo himself came to work the ship's
log. He spoke no word to me, but seemed gloomier than ever. What could sadden him thus?
Was it his proximity to European shores? Had he some recollections of his abandoned
country? If not, what did he feel? Remorse or regret? For a long while this thought
haunted my mind, and I had a kind of presentiment that before long chance would betray the
The next day, June 1, the Nautilus continued the
same process. It was evidently seeking some particular spot in the ocean. Captain Nemo
took the sun's altitude as he had done the day before. The sea was beautiful, the sky
clear. About eight miles to the east, a large steam vessel could be discerned on the
horizon. No flag fluttered from its mast, and I could not discover its nationality. Some
minutes before the sun passed the meridian, Captain Nemo took his sextant, and watched
with great attention. The perfect rest of the water greatly helped the operation. The Nautilus
was motionless; it neither rolled nor pitched.
I was on the platform when the altitude was taken, and the
captain pronounced these words- "It is here."
He turned and went below. Had he seen the vessel which was
changing its course and seemed to be nearing us? I could not tell. I returned to the
saloon. The panels closed, I heard the hissing of the water in the reservoirs. The Nautilus
began to sink, following a vertical line, for its screw communicated no motion to it. Some
minutes later it stopped at a depth of more than 420 fathoms, resting on the ground. The
luminous ceiling was darkened, then the panels were opened, and through the glass I saw
the sea brilliantly illuminated by the rays of our lantern for at least half a mile round
I looked to the port side, and saw nothing but an
immensity of quiet waters. But to starboard, on the bottom appeared a large protuberance
which at once attracted my attention. One would have thought it a ruin buried under a
coating of white shells, much resembling a covering of snow. Upon examining the mass
attentively, I could recognize the ever thickening form of a vessel bare of its masts,
which must have sunk. It certainly belonged to past times. This wreck, to be thus
encrusted with the lime of the water, must already be able to count many years passed at
the bottom of the ocean.
What was this vessel? Why did the Nautilus visit
its tomb? Could it have been aught but a shipwreck which had drawn it under the water? I
knew not what to think, when near me in a slow voice I heard Captain Nemo say:
"At one time this ship was called the Marseillais. It
carried seventy-four guns, and was launched in 1762. In 1778, August 13, commanded by La
Poype-Vertrieux, it fought boldly against the Preston. In 1779, on July 4, it was at the
taking of Grenada, with the squadron of Admiral Estaing. In 1781, on September 5, it took
part in the battle of Comte de Grasse, in Chesapeake Bay. In 1794, the French Republic
changed its name. On April 6, in the same year, it joined the squadron of Villaret
Joyeuse, at Brest, being entrusted with the escort of a cargo of corn coming from America,
under the command of Admiral Van Stabel. On the eleventh and twelfth Prairial of the
second year, this squadron fell in with an English vessel. Sir, today is the thirteenth
Prairial, June 1, 1868. It is now seventy-four years ago, day for day on this very spot,
in latitude 47° 24', longitude 17° 28', that this vessel after fighting heroically,
losing its three masts, with the water in its hold, and the third of its crew disabled,
preferred sinking with its 356 sailors to surrendering; and nailing its colors to the
poop, disappeared under the waves to the cry of 'Long live the Republic!'"
"The Avenger!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, Sir, the Avenger! A good name!"
muttered Captain Nemo, crossing his arms.