THE FOLLOWING DAY, January 10, the Nautilus resumed its travels in midwater but at a remarkable speed that I estimated to be at least thirty–five miles per hour. The propeller was going so fast I could neither follow nor count its revolutions.
I thought about how this marvelous electric force not only gave motion, heat, and light to the Nautilus but even protected it against outside attack, transforming it into a sacred ark no profane hand could touch without being blasted; my wonderment was boundless, and it went from the submersible itself to the engineer who had created it.
We were traveling due west and on January 11 we doubled Cape Wessel, located in longitude 135° and latitude 10° north, the western tip of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Reefs were still numerous but more widely scattered and were fixed on the chart with the greatest accuracy. The Nautilus easily avoided the Money breakers to port and the Victoria reefs to starboard, positioned at longitude 130° on the tenth parallel, which we went along rigorously.
On January 13, arriving in the Timor Sea, Captain Nemo raised the island of that name at longitude 122°. This island, whose surface area measures 1,625 square leagues, is governed by rajahs. These aristocrats deem themselves the sons of crocodiles, in other words, descendants with the most exalted origins to which a human being can lay claim. Accordingly, their scaly ancestors infest the island’s rivers and are the subjects of special veneration. They are sheltered, nurtured, flattered, pampered, and offered a ritual diet of nubile maidens; and woe to the foreigner who lifts a finger against these sacred saurians.
But the Nautilus wanted nothing to do with these nasty animals. Timor Island was visible for barely an instant at noon while the chief officer determined his position. I also caught only a glimpse of little Roti Island, part of this same group, whose women have a well–established reputation for beauty in the Malaysian marketplace.
After our position fix, the Nautilus’s latitude bearings were modulated to the southwest. Our prow pointed to the Indian Ocean. Where would Captain Nemo’s fancies take us? Would he head up to the shores of Asia? Would he pull nearer to the beaches of Europe? Unlikely choices for a man who avoided populated areas! So would he go down south? Would he double the Cape of Good Hope, then Cape Horn, and push on to the Antarctic pole? Finally, would he return to the seas of the Pacific, where his Nautilus could navigate freely and easily? Time would tell.
After cruising along the Cartier, Hibernia, Seringapatam, and Scott reefs, the solid element’s last exertions against the liquid element, we were beyond all sight of shore by January 14. The Nautilus slowed down in an odd manner, and very unpredictable in its ways, it sometimes swam in the midst of the waters, sometimes drifted on their surface.
During this phase of our voyage, Captain Nemo conducted interesting experiments on the different temperatures in various strata of the sea. Under ordinary conditions, such readings are obtained using some pretty complicated instruments whose findings are dubious to say the least, whether they’re thermometric sounding lines, whose glass often shatters under the water’s pressure, or those devices based on the varying resistance of metals to electric currents. The results so obtained can’t be adequately double–checked. By contrast, Captain Nemo would seek the sea’s temperature by going himself into its depths, and when he placed his thermometer in contact with the various layers of liquid, he found the sought–for degree immediately and with certainty.
And so, by loading up its ballast tanks, or by sinking obliquely with its slanting fins, the Nautilus successively reached depths of 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, 7,000, 9,000, and 10,000 meters, and the ultimate conclusion from these experiments was that, in all latitudes, the sea had a permanent temperature of 4.5° centigrade at a depth of 1,000 meters.
I watched these experiments with the most intense fascination. Captain Nemo brought a real passion to them. I often wondered why he took these observations. Were they for the benefit of his fellow man? It was unlikely, because sooner or later his work would perish with him in some unknown sea! Unless he intended the results of his experiments for me. But that meant this strange voyage of mine would come to an end, and no such end was in sight.
Be that as it may, Captain Nemo also introduced me to the different data he had obtained on the relative densities of the water in our globe’s chief seas. From this news I derived some personal enlightenment having nothing to do with science.
It happened the morning of January 15. The captain, with whom I was strolling on the platform, asked me if I knew how salt water differs in density from sea to sea. I said no, adding that there was a lack of rigorous scientific observations on this subject.
“I’ve taken such observations,” he told me, “and I can vouch for their reliability.”
“Fine,” I replied, “but the Nautilus lives in a separate world, and the secrets of its scientists don’t make their way ashore.”
“You’re right, professor,” he told me after a few moments of silence. “This is a separate world. It’s as alien to the earth as the planets accompanying our globe around the sun, and we’ll never become familiar with the work of scientists on Saturn or Jupiter. But since fate has linked our two lives, I can reveal the results of my observations to you.”
“I’m all attention, Captain.”
“You’re aware, Professor, that salt water is denser than fresh water, but this density isn’t uniform. In essence, if I represent the density of fresh water by 1.000, then I find 1.028 for the waters of the Atlantic, 1.026 for the waters of the Pacific, 1.030 for the waters of the Mediterranean—”
Aha, I thought, so he ventures into the Mediterranean?
“—1.018 for the waters of the Ionian Sea, and 1.029 for the waters of the Adriatic.”
Assuredly, the Nautilus didn’t avoid the heavily traveled seas of Europe, and from this insight I concluded that the ship would take us back—perhaps very soon—to more civilized shores. I expected Ned Land to greet this news with unfeigned satisfaction.
For several days our work hours were spent in all sorts of experiments, on the degree of salinity in waters of different depths, or on their electric properties, coloration, and transparency, and in every instance Captain Nemo displayed an ingenuity equaled only by his graciousness toward me. Then I saw no more of him for some days and again lived on board in seclusion.
On January 16 the Nautilus seemed to have fallen asleep just a few meters beneath the surface of the water. Its electric equipment had been turned off, and the motionless propeller let it ride with the waves. I assumed that the crew were busy with interior repairs, required by the engine’s strenuous mechanical action.
My companions and I then witnessed an unusual sight. The panels in the lounge were open, and since the Nautilus’s beacon was off, a hazy darkness reigned in the midst of the waters. Covered with heavy clouds, the stormy sky gave only the faintest light to the ocean’s upper strata.
I was observing the state of the sea under these conditions, and even the largest fish were nothing more than ill–defined shadows, when the Nautilus was suddenly transferred into broad daylight. At first I thought the beacon had gone back on and was casting its electric light into the liquid mass. I was mistaken, and after a hasty examination I discovered my error.
The Nautilus had drifted into the midst of some phosphorescent strata, which, in this darkness, came off as positively dazzling. This effect was caused by myriads of tiny, luminous animals whose brightness increased when they glided over the metal hull of our submersible. In the midst of these luminous sheets of water, I then glimpsed flashes of light, like those seen inside a blazing furnace from streams of molten lead or from masses of metal brought to a white heat—flashes so intense that certain areas of the light became shadows by comparison, in a fiery setting from which every shadow should seemingly have been banished. No, this was no longer the calm emission of our usual lighting! This light throbbed with unprecedented vigor and activity! You sensed that it was alive!
In essence, it was a cluster of countless open–sea infusoria, of noctiluca an eighth of an inch wide, actual globules of transparent jelly equipped with a threadlike tentacle, up to 25,000 of which have been counted in thirty cubic centimeters of water. And the power of their light was increased by those glimmers unique to medusas, starfish, common jellyfish, angel–wing clams, and other phosphorescent zoophytes, which were saturated with grease from organic matter decomposed by the sea, and perhaps with mucus secreted by fish.
For several hours the Nautilus drifted in this brilliant tide, and our wonderment grew when we saw huge marine animals cavorting in it, like the fire–dwelling salamanders of myth. In the midst of these flames that didn’t burn, I could see swift, elegant porpoises, the tireless pranksters of the seas, and sailfish three meters long, those shrewd heralds of hurricanes, whose fearsome broadswords sometimes banged against the lounge window. Then smaller fish appeared: miscellaneous triggerfish, leather jacks, unicornfish, and a hundred others that left stripes on this luminous atmosphere in their course.
Some magic lay behind this dazzling sight! Perhaps some atmospheric condition had intensified this phenomenon? Perhaps a storm had been unleashed on the surface of the waves? But only a few meters down, the Nautilus felt no tempest’s fury, and the ship rocked peacefully in the midst of the calm waters.
And so it went, some new wonder constantly delighting us. Conseil observed and classified his zoophytes, articulates, mollusks, and fish. The days passed quickly, and I no longer kept track of them. Ned, as usual, kept looking for changes of pace from our standard fare. Like actual snails, we were at home in our shell, and I can vouch that it’s easy to turn into a full–fledged snail.
So this way of living began to seem simple and natural to us, and we no longer envisioned a different lifestyle on the surface of the planet earth, when something happened to remind us of our strange circumstances.
On January 18 the Nautilus lay in longitude 105° and latitude 15° south. The weather was threatening, the sea rough and billowy. The wind was blowing a strong gust from the east. The barometer, which had been falling for some days, forecast an approaching struggle of the elements.
I had climbed onto the platform just as the chief officer was taking his readings of hour angles. Out of habit I waited for him to pronounce his daily phrase. But that day it was replaced by a different phrase, just as incomprehensible. Almost at once I saw Captain Nemo appear, lift his spyglass, and inspect the horizon.
For some minutes the captain stood motionless, rooted to the spot contained within the field of his lens. Then he lowered his spyglass and exchanged about ten words with his chief officer. The latter seemed to be in the grip of an excitement he tried in vain to control. More in command of himself, Captain Nemo remained cool. Furthermore, he seemed to be raising certain objections that his chief officer kept answering with flat assurances. At least that’s what I gathered from their differences in tone and gesture.
As for me, I stared industriously in the direction under observation but without spotting a thing. Sky and water merged into a perfectly clean horizon line.
Meanwhile Captain Nemo strolled from one end of the platform to the other, not glancing at me, perhaps not even seeing me. His step was firm but less regular than usual. Sometimes he would stop, cross his arms over his chest, and observe the sea. What could he be looking for over that immense expanse? By then the Nautilus lay hundreds of miles from the nearest coast!
The chief officer kept lifting his spyglass and stubbornly examining the horizon, walking up and down, stamping his foot, in his nervous agitation a sharp contrast to his superior.
But this mystery would inevitably be cleared up, and soon, because Captain Nemo gave orders to increase speed; at once the engine stepped up its drive power, setting the propeller in swifter rotation.
Just then the chief officer drew the captain’s attention anew. The latter interrupted his strolling and aimed his spyglass at the point indicated. He observed it a good while. As for me, deeply puzzled, I went below to the lounge and brought back an excellent long–range telescope I habitually used. Leaning my elbows on the beacon housing, which jutted from the stern of the platform, I got set to scour that whole stretch of sky and sea.
But no sooner had I peered into the eyepiece than the instrument was snatched from my hands.
I spun around. Captain Nemo was standing before me, but I almost didn’t recognize him. His facial features were transfigured. Gleaming with dark fire, his eyes had shrunk beneath his frowning brow. His teeth were half bared. His rigid body, clenched fists, and head drawn between his shoulders, all attested to a fierce hate breathing from every pore. He didn’t move. My spyglass fell from his hand and rolled at his feet.
Had I accidentally caused these symptoms of anger? Did this incomprehensible individual think I had detected some secret forbidden to guests on the Nautilus?
No! I wasn’t the subject of his hate because he wasn’t even looking at me; his eyes stayed stubbornly focused on that inscrutable point of the horizon.
Finally Captain Nemo regained his self–control. His facial appearance, so profoundly changed, now resumed its usual calm. He addressed a few words to his chief officer in their strange language, then he turned to me:
“Professor Aronnax,” he told me in a tone of some urgency, “I ask that you now honor one of the binding agreements between us.”
“Which one, Captain?”
“You and your companions must be placed in confinement until I see fit to set you free.”
“You’re in command,” I answered, gaping at him. “But may I address a question to you?”
“You may not, sir.”
After that, I stopped objecting and started obeying, since resistance was useless.
I went below to the cabin occupied by Ned Land and Conseil, and I informed them of the captain’s decision. I’ll let the reader decide how this news was received by the Canadian. In any case, there was no time for explanations. Four crewmen were waiting at the door, and they led us to the cell where we had spent our first night aboard the Nautilus.
Ned Land tried to lodge a complaint, but the only answer he got was a door shut in his face.
“Will master tell me what this means?” Conseil asked me.
I told my companions what had happened. They were as astonished as I was, but no wiser.
Then I sank into deep speculation, and Captain Nemo’s strange facial seizure kept haunting me. I was incapable of connecting two ideas in logical order, and I had strayed into the most absurd hypotheses, when I was snapped out of my mental struggles by these words from Ned Land:
“Well, look here! Lunch is served!”
Indeed, the table had been laid. Apparently Captain Nemo had given this order at the same time he commanded the Nautilus to pick up speed.
“Will master allow me to make him a recommendation?” Conseil asked me.
“Yes, my boy,” I replied.
“Well, master needs to eat his lunch! It’s prudent, because we have no idea what the future holds.”
“You’re right, Conseil.”
“Unfortunately,” Ned Land said, “they’ve only given us the standard menu.”
“Ned my friend,” Conseil answered, “what would you say if they’d given us no lunch at all?”
This dose of sanity cut the harpooner’s complaints clean off.
We sat down at the table. Our meal proceeded pretty much in silence. I ate very little. Conseil, everlastingly prudent, “force–fed” himself; and despite the menu, Ned Land didn’t waste a bite. Then, lunch over, each of us propped himself in a corner.
Just then the luminous globe lighting our cell went out, leaving us in profound darkness. Ned Land soon dozed off, and to my astonishment, Conseil also fell into a heavy slumber. I was wondering what could have caused this urgent need for sleep, when I felt a dense torpor saturate my brain. I tried to keep my eyes open, but they closed in spite of me. I was in the grip of anguished hallucinations. Obviously some sleep–inducing substance had been laced into the food we’d just eaten! So imprisonment wasn’t enough to conceal Captain Nemo’s plans from us—sleep was needed as well!
Then I heard the hatches close. The sea’s undulations, which had been creating a gentle rocking motion, now ceased. Had the Nautilus left the surface of the ocean? Was it reentering the motionless strata deep in the sea?
I tried to fight off this drowsiness. It was impossible. My breathing grew weaker. I felt a mortal chill freeze my dull, nearly paralyzed limbs. Like little domes of lead, my lids fell over my eyes. I couldn’t raise them. A morbid sleep, full of hallucinations, seized my whole being. Then the visions disappeared and left me in utter oblivion.
THE NEXT DAY I woke up with my head unusually clear. Much to my surprise, I was in my stateroom. No doubt my companions had been put back in their cabin without noticing it any more than I had. Like me, they would have no idea what took place during the night, and to unravel this mystery I could count only on some future happenstance.
I then considered leaving my stateroom. Was I free or still a prisoner? Perfectly free. I opened my door, headed down the gangways, and climbed the central companionway. Hatches that had been closed the day before were now open. I arrived on the platform.
Ned Land and Conseil were there waiting for me. I questioned them. They knew nothing. Lost in a heavy sleep of which they had no memory, they were quite startled to be back in their cabin.
As for the Nautilus, it seemed as tranquil and mysterious as ever. It was cruising on the surface of the waves at a moderate speed. Nothing seemed to have changed on board.
Ned Land observed the sea with his penetrating eyes. It was deserted. The Canadian sighted nothing new on the horizon, neither sail nor shore. A breeze was blowing noisily from the west, and disheveled by the wind, long billows made the submersible roll very noticeably.
After renewing its air, the Nautilus stayed at an average depth of fifteen meters, enabling it to return quickly to the surface of the waves. And, contrary to custom, it executed such a maneuver several times during that day of January 19. The chief officer would then climb onto the platform, and his usual phrase would ring through the ship’s interior.
As for Captain Nemo, he didn’t appear. Of the other men on board, I saw only my emotionless steward, who served me with his usual mute efficiency.
Near two o’clock I was busy organizing my notes in the lounge, when the captain opened the door and appeared. I bowed to him. He gave me an almost imperceptible bow in return, without saying a word to me. I resumed my work, hoping he might give me some explanation of the previous afternoon’s events. He did nothing of the sort. I stared at him. His face looked exhausted; his reddened eyes hadn’t been refreshed by sleep; his facial features expressed profound sadness, real chagrin. He walked up and down, sat and stood, picked up a book at random, discarded it immediately, consulted his instruments without taking his customary notes, and seemed unable to rest easy for an instant.
Finally he came over to me and said:
“Are you a physician, Professor Aronnax?”
This inquiry was so unexpected that I stared at him a good while without replying.
“Are you a physician?” he repeated. “Several of your scientific colleagues took their degrees in medicine, such as Gratiolet, Moquin–Tandon, and others.”
“That’s right,” I said, “I am a doctor, I used to be on call at the hospitals. I was in practice for several years before joining the museum.”
My reply obviously pleased Captain Nemo. But not knowing what he was driving at, I waited for further questions, ready to reply as circumstances dictated.
“Professor Aronnax,” the captain said to me, “would you consent to give your medical attentions to one of my men?”
“Someone is sick?”
“I’m ready to go with you.”
I admit that my heart was pounding. Lord knows why, but I saw a definite connection between this sick crewman and yesterday’s happenings, and the mystery of those events concerned me at least as much as the man’s sickness.
Captain Nemo led me to the Nautilus’s stern and invited me into a cabin located next to the sailors’ quarters.
On a bed there lay a man some forty years old, with strongly molded features, the very image of an Anglo–Saxon.
I bent over him. Not only was he sick, he was wounded. Swathed in blood–soaked linen, his head was resting on a folded pillow. I undid the linen bandages, while the wounded man gazed with great staring eyes and let me proceed without making a single complaint.
It was a horrible wound. The cranium had been smashed open by some blunt instrument, leaving the naked brains exposed, and the cerebral matter had suffered deep abrasions. Blood clots had formed in this dissolving mass, taking on the color of wine dregs. Both contusion and concussion of the brain had occurred. The sick man’s breathing was labored, and muscle spasms quivered in his face. Cerebral inflammation was complete and had brought on a paralysis of movement and sensation.
I took the wounded man’s pulse. It was intermittent. The body’s extremities were already growing cold, and I saw that death was approaching without any possibility of my holding it in check. After dressing the poor man’s wound, I redid the linen bandages around his head, and I turned to Captain Nemo.
“How did he get this wound?” I asked him.
“That’s not important,” the captain replied evasively. “The Nautilus suffered a collision that cracked one of the engine levers, and it struck this man. My chief officer was standing beside him. This man leaped forward to intercept the blow. A brother lays down his life for his brother, a friend for his friend, what could be simpler? That’s the law for everyone on board the Nautilus. But what’s your diagnosis of his condition?”
I hesitated to speak my mind.
“You may talk freely,” the captain told me. “This man doesn’t understand French.”
I took a last look at the wounded man, then I replied:
“This man will be dead in two hours.”
“Nothing can save him?”
Captain Nemo clenched his fists, and tears slid from his eyes, which I had thought incapable of weeping.
For a few moments more I observed the dying man, whose life was ebbing little by little. He grew still more pale under the electric light that bathed his deathbed. I looked at his intelligent head, furrowed with premature wrinkles that misfortune, perhaps misery, had etched long before. I was hoping to detect the secret of his life in the last words that might escape from his lips!
“You may go, Professor Aronnax,” Captain Nemo told me.
I left the captain in the dying man’s cabin and I repaired to my stateroom, very moved by this scene. All day long I was aquiver with gruesome forebodings. That night I slept poorly, and between my fitful dreams, I thought I heard a distant moaning, like a funeral dirge. Was it a prayer for the dead, murmured in that language I couldn’t understand?
The next morning I climbed on deck. Captain Nemo was already there. As soon as he saw me, he came over.
“Professor,” he said to me, “would it be convenient for you to make an underwater excursion today?”
“With my companions?” I asked.
“If they’re agreeable.”
“We’re yours to command, Captain.”
“Then kindly put on your diving suits.”
As for the dead or dying man, he hadn’t come into the picture. I rejoined Ned Land and Conseil. I informed them of Captain Nemo’s proposition. Conseil was eager to accept, and this time the Canadian proved perfectly amenable to going with us.
It was eight o’clock in the morning. By 8:30 we were suited up for this new stroll and equipped with our two devices for lighting and breathing. The double door opened, and accompanied by Captain Nemo with a dozen crewmen following, we set foot on the firm seafloor where the Nautilus was resting, ten meters down.
A gentle slope gravitated to an uneven bottom whose depth was about fifteen fathoms. This bottom was completely different from the one I had visited during my first excursion under the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Here I saw no fine–grained sand, no underwater prairies, not one open–sea forest. I immediately recognized the wondrous region in which Captain Nemo did the honors that day. It was the coral realm.
In the zoophyte branch, class Alcyonaria, one finds the order Gorgonaria, which contains three groups: sea fans, isidian polyps, and coral polyps. It’s in this last that precious coral belongs, an unusual substance that, at different times, has been classified in the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms. Medicine to the ancients, jewelry to the moderns, it wasn’t decisively placed in the animal kingdom until 1694, by Peysonnel of Marseilles.
A coral is a unit of tiny animals assembled over a polypary that’s brittle and stony in nature. These polyps have a unique generating mechanism that reproduces them via the budding process, and they have an individual existence while also participating in a communal life. Hence they embody a sort of natural socialism. I was familiar with the latest research on this bizarre zoophyte—which turns to stone while taking on a tree form, as some naturalists have very aptly observed—and nothing could have been more fascinating to me than to visit one of these petrified forests that nature has planted on the bottom of the sea.
We turned on our Ruhmkorff devices and went along a coral shoal in the process of forming, which, given time, will someday close off this whole part of the Indian Ocean. Our path was bordered by hopelessly tangled bushes, formed from snarls of shrubs all covered with little star–shaped, white–streaked flowers. Only, contrary to plants on shore, these tree forms become attached to rocks on the seafloor by heading from top to bottom.
Our lights produced a thousand delightful effects while playing over these brightly colored boughs. I fancied I saw these cylindrical, membrane–filled tubes trembling beneath the water’s undulations. I was tempted to gather their fresh petals, which were adorned with delicate tentacles, some newly in bloom, others barely opened, while nimble fish with fluttering fins brushed past them like flocks of birds. But if my hands came near the moving flowers of these sensitive, lively creatures, an alarm would instantly sound throughout the colony. The white petals retracted into their red sheaths, the flowers vanished before my eyes, and the bush changed into a chunk of stony nipples.
Sheer chance had placed me in the presence of the most valuable specimens of this zoophyte. This coral was the equal of those fished up from the Mediterranean off the Barbary Coast or the shores of France and Italy. With its bright colors, it lived up to those poetic names of blood flower and blood foam that the industry confers on its finest exhibits. Coral sells for as much as ₣500 per kilogram, and in this locality the liquid strata hid enough to make the fortunes of a whole host of coral fishermen. This valuable substance often merges with other polyparies, forming compact, hopelessly tangled units known as “macciota,” and I noted some wonderful pink samples of this coral.
But as the bushes shrank, the tree forms magnified. Actual petrified thickets and long alcoves from some fantastic school of architecture kept opening up before our steps. Captain Nemo entered beneath a dark gallery whose gentle slope took us to a depth of 100 meters. The light from our glass coils produced magical effects at times, lingering on the wrinkled roughness of some natural arch, or some overhang suspended like a chandelier, which our lamps flecked with fiery sparks. Amid these shrubs of precious coral, I observed other polyps no less unusual: melita coral, rainbow coral with jointed outgrowths, then a few tufts of genus Corallina, some green and others red, actually a type of seaweed encrusted with limestone salts, which, after long disputes, naturalists have finally placed in the vegetable kingdom. But as one intellectual has remarked, “Here, perhaps, is the actual point where life rises humbly out of slumbering stone, but without breaking away from its crude starting point.”
Finally, after two hours of walking, we reached a depth of about 300 meters, in other words, the lowermost limit at which coral can begin to form. But here it was no longer some isolated bush or a modest grove of low timber. It was an immense forest, huge mineral vegetation, enormous petrified trees linked by garlands of elegant hydras from the genus Plumularia, those tropical creepers of the sea, all decked out in shades and gleams. We passed freely under their lofty boughs, lost up in the shadows of the waves, while at our feet organ–pipe coral, stony coral, star coral, fungus coral, and sea anemone from the genus Caryophylia formed a carpet of flowers all strewn with dazzling gems.
What an indescribable sight! Oh, if only we could share our feelings! Why were we imprisoned behind these masks of metal and glass! Why were we forbidden to talk with each other! At least let us lead the lives of the fish that populate this liquid element, or better yet, the lives of amphibians, which can spend long hours either at sea or on shore, traveling through their double domain as their whims dictate!
Meanwhile Captain Nemo had called a halt. My companions and I stopped walking, and turning around, I saw the crewmen form a semicircle around their leader. Looking with greater care, I observed that four of them were carrying on their shoulders an object that was oblong in shape.
At this locality we stood in the center of a huge clearing surrounded by the tall tree forms of this underwater forest. Our lamps cast a sort of brilliant twilight over the area, making inordinately long shadows on the seafloor. Past the boundaries of the clearing, the darkness deepened again, relieved only by little sparkles given off by the sharp crests of coral.
Ned Land and Conseil stood next to me. We stared, and it dawned on me that I was about to witness a strange scene. Observing the seafloor, I saw that it swelled at certain points from low bulges that were encrusted with limestone deposits and arranged with a symmetry that betrayed the hand of man.
In the middle of the clearing, on a pedestal of roughly piled rocks, there stood a cross of coral, extending long arms you would have thought were made of petrified blood.
At a signal from Captain Nemo, one of his men stepped forward and, a few feet from this cross, detached a mattock from his belt and began to dig a hole.
I finally understood! This clearing was a cemetery, this hole a grave, that oblong object the body of the man who must have died during the night! Captain Nemo and his men had come to bury their companion in this communal resting place on the inaccessible ocean floor!
No! My mind was reeling as never before! Never had ideas of such impact raced through my brain! I didn’t want to see what my eyes saw!
Meanwhile the grave digging went slowly. Fish fled here and there as their retreat was disturbed. I heard the pick ringing on the limestone soil, its iron tip sometimes giving off sparks when it hit a stray piece of flint on the sea bottom. The hole grew longer, wider, and soon was deep enough to receive the body.
Then the pallbearers approached. Wrapped in white fabric made from filaments of the fan mussel, the body was lowered into its watery grave. Captain Nemo, arms crossed over his chest, knelt in a posture of prayer, as did all the friends of him who had loved them. . . . My two companions and I bowed reverently.
The grave was then covered over with the rubble dug from the seafloor, and it formed a low mound.
When this was done, Captain Nemo and his men stood up; then they all approached the grave, sank again on bended knee, and extended their hands in a sign of final farewell. . . .
Then the funeral party went back up the path to the Nautilus, returning beneath the arches of the forest, through the thickets, along the coral bushes, going steadily higher.
Finally the ship’s rays appeared. Their luminous trail guided us to the Nautilus. By one o’clock we had returned.
After changing clothes, I climbed onto the platform, and in the grip of dreadfully obsessive thoughts, I sat next to the beacon.
Captain Nemo rejoined me. I stood up and said to him:
“So, as I predicted, that man died during the night?”
“Yes, Professor Aronnax,” Captain Nemo replied.
“And now he rests beside his companions in that coral cemetery?”
“Yes, forgotten by the world but not by us! We dig the graves, then entrust the polyps with sealing away our dead for eternity!”
And with a sudden gesture, the captain hid his face in his clenched fists, vainly trying to hold back a sob. Then he added:
“There lies our peaceful cemetery, hundreds of feet beneath the surface of the waves!”
“At least, captain, your dead can sleep serenely there, out of the reach of sharks!”
“Yes, sir,” Captain Nemo replied solemnly, “of sharks and men!”