I HAVE NO IDEA how long this slumber lasted; but it must have been a good while, since we were completely over our exhaustion. I was the first one to wake up. My companions weren’t yet stirring and still lay in their corners like inanimate objects.
I had barely gotten up from my passably hard mattress when I felt my mind clear, my brain go on the alert. So I began a careful reexamination of our cell.
Nothing had changed in its interior arrangements. The prison was still a prison and its prisoners still prisoners. But, taking advantage of our slumber, the steward had cleared the table. Consequently, nothing indicated any forthcoming improvement in our situation, and I seriously wondered if we were doomed to spend the rest of our lives in this cage.
This prospect seemed increasingly painful to me because, even though my brain was clear of its obsessions from the night before, I was feeling an odd short–windedness in my chest. It was becoming hard for me to breathe. The heavy air was no longer sufficient for the full play of my lungs. Although our cell was large, we obviously had used up most of the oxygen it contained. In essence, over an hour’s time a single human being consumes all the oxygen found in 100 liters of air, at which point that air has become charged with a nearly equal amount of carbon dioxide and is no longer fit for breathing.
So it was now urgent to renew the air in our prison, and no doubt the air in this whole underwater boat as well.
Here a question popped into my head. How did the commander of this aquatic residence go about it? Did he obtain air using chemical methods, releasing the oxygen contained in potassium chlorate by heating it, meanwhile absorbing the carbon dioxide with potassium hydroxide? If so, he would have to keep up some kind of relationship with the shore, to come by the materials needed for such an operation. Did he simply limit himself to storing the air in high–pressure tanks and then dispense it according to his crew’s needs? Perhaps. Or, proceeding in a more convenient, more economical, and consequently more probable fashion, was he satisfied with merely returning to breathe at the surface of the water like a cetacean, renewing his oxygen supply every twenty–four hours? In any event, whatever his method was, it seemed prudent to me that he use this method without delay.
In fact, I had already resorted to speeding up my inhalations in order to extract from the cell what little oxygen it contained, when suddenly I was refreshed by a current of clean air, scented with a salty aroma. It had to be a sea breeze, life–giving and charged with iodine! I opened my mouth wide, and my lungs glutted themselves on the fresh particles. At the same time, I felt a swaying, a rolling of moderate magnitude but definitely noticeable. This boat, this sheet–iron monster, had obviously just risen to the surface of the ocean, there to breathe in good whale fashion. So the ship’s mode of ventilation was finally established.
When I had absorbed a chestful of this clean air, I looked for the conduit—the “air carrier,” if you prefer—that allowed this beneficial influx to reach us, and I soon found it. Above the door opened an air vent that let in a fresh current of oxygen, renewing the thin air in our cell.
I had gotten to this point in my observations when Ned and Conseil woke up almost simultaneously, under the influence of this reviving air purification. They rubbed their eyes, stretched their arms, and sprang to their feet.
“Did master sleep well?” Conseil asked me with his perennial good manners.
“Extremely well, my gallant lad,” I replied. “And how about you, Mr. Ned Land?”
“Like a log, professor. But I must be imagining things, because it seems like I’m breathing a sea breeze!”
A seaman couldn’t be wrong on this topic, and I told the Canadian what had gone on while he slept.
“Good!” he said. “That explains perfectly all that bellowing we heard, when our so–called narwhale lay in sight of the Abraham Lincoln.”
“Perfectly, Mr. Land. It was catching its breath!”
“Only I’ve no idea what time it is, Professor Aronnax, unless maybe it’s dinnertime?”
“Dinnertime, my fine harpooner? I’d say at least breakfast time, because we’ve certainly woken up to a new day.”
“Which indicates,” Conseil replied, “that we’ve spent twenty–four hours in slumber.”
“That’s my assessment,” I replied.
“I won’t argue with you,” Ned Land answered. “But dinner or breakfast, that steward will be plenty welcome whether he brings the one or the other.”
“The one and the other,” Conseil said.
“Well put,” the Canadian replied. “We deserve two meals, and speaking for myself, I’ll do justice to them both.”
“All right, Ned, let’s wait and see!” I replied. “It’s clear that these strangers don’t intend to let us die of hunger, otherwise last evening’s dinner wouldn’t make any sense.”
“Unless they’re fattening us up!” Ned shot back.
“I object,” I replied. “We have not fallen into the hands of cannibals.”
“Just because they don’t make a habit of it,” the Canadian replied in all seriousness, “doesn’t mean they don’t indulge from time to time. Who knows? Maybe these people have gone without fresh meat for a long while, and in that case three healthy, well–built specimens like the professor, his manservant, and me—”
“Get rid of those ideas, Mr. Land,” I answered the harpooner. “And above all, don’t let them lead you to flare up against our hosts, which would only make our situation worse.”
“Anyhow,” the harpooner said, “I’m as hungry as all Hades, and dinner or breakfast, not one puny meal has arrived!”
“Mr. Land,” I answered, “we have to adapt to the schedule on board, and I imagine our stomachs are running ahead of the chief cook’s dinner bell.”
“Well then, we’ll adjust our stomachs to the chef’s timetable!” Conseil replied serenely.
“There you go again, Conseil my friend!” the impatient Canadian shot back. “You never allow yourself any displays of bile or attacks of nerves! You’re everlastingly calm! You’d say your after–meal grace even if you didn’t get any food for your before–meal blessing—and you’d starve to death rather than complain!”
“What good would it do?” Conseil asked.
“Complaining doesn’t have to do good, it just feels good! And if these pirates—I say pirates out of consideration for the professor’s feelings, since he doesn’t want us to call them cannibals—if these pirates think they’re going to smother me in this cage without hearing what cusswords spice up my outbursts, they’ve got another think coming! Look here, Professor Aronnax, speak frankly. How long do you figure they’ll keep us in this iron box?”
“To tell the truth, friend Land, I know little more about it than you do.”
“But in a nutshell, what do you suppose is going on?”
“My supposition is that sheer chance has made us privy to an important secret. Now then, if the crew of this underwater boat have a personal interest in keeping that secret, and if their personal interest is more important than the lives of three men, I believe that our very existence is in jeopardy. If such is not the case, then at the first available opportunity, this monster that has swallowed us will return us to the world inhabited by our own kind.”
“Unless they recruit us to serve on the crew,” Conseil said, “and keep us here—”
“Till the moment,” Ned Land answered, “when some frigate that’s faster or smarter than the Abraham Lincoln captures this den of buccaneers, then hangs all of us by the neck from the tip of a mainmast yardarm!”
“Well thought out, Mr. Land,” I replied. “But as yet, I don’t believe we’ve been tendered any enlistment offers. Consequently, it’s pointless to argue about what tactics we should pursue in such a case. I repeat: let’s wait, let’s be guided by events, and let’s do nothing, since right now there’s nothing we can do.”
“On the contrary, professor,” the harpooner replied, not wanting to give in. “There is something we can do.”
“Oh? And what, Mr. Land?”
“Break out of here!”
“Breaking out of a prison on shore is difficult enough, but with an underwater prison, it strikes me as completely unworkable.”
“Come now, Ned my friend,” Conseil asked, “how would you answer master’s objection? I refuse to believe that an American is at the end of his tether.”
Visibly baffled, the harpooner said nothing. Under the conditions in which fate had left us, it was absolutely impossible to escape. But a Canadian’s wit is half French, and Mr. Ned Land made this clear in his reply.
“So, Professor Aronnax,” he went on after thinking for a few moments, “you haven’t figured out what people do when they can’t escape from their prison?”
“No, my friend.”
“Easy. They fix things so they stay there.”
“Of course!” Conseil put in. “Since we’re deep in the ocean, being inside this boat is vastly preferable to being above it or below it!”
“But we fix things by kicking out all the jailers, guards, and wardens,” Ned Land added.
“What’s this, Ned?” I asked. “You’d seriously consider taking over this craft?”
“Very seriously,” the Canadian replied.
“And why is that, sir? Some promising opportunity might come up, and I don’t see what could stop us from taking advantage of it. If there are only about twenty men on board this machine, I don’t think they can stave off two Frenchmen and a Canadian!”
It seemed wiser to accept the harpooner’s proposition than to debate it. Accordingly, I was content to reply:
“Let such circumstances come, Mr. Land, and we’ll see. But until then, I beg you to control your impatience. We need to act shrewdly, and your flare–ups won’t give rise to any promising opportunities. So swear to me that you’ll accept our situation without throwing a tantrum over it.”
“I give you my word, professor,” Ned Land replied in an unenthusiastic tone. “No vehement phrases will leave my mouth, no vicious gestures will give my feelings away, not even when they don’t feed us on time.”
“I have your word, Ned,” I answered the Canadian.
Then our conversation petered out, and each of us withdrew into his own thoughts. For my part, despite the harpooner’s confident talk, I admit that I entertained no illusions. I had no faith in those promising opportunities that Ned Land mentioned. To operate with such efficiency, this underwater boat had to have a sizeable crew, so if it came to a physical contest, we would be facing an overwhelming opponent. Besides, before we could do anything, we had to be free, and that we definitely were not. I didn’t see any way out of this sheet–iron, hermetically sealed cell. And if the strange commander of this boat did have a secret to keep—which seemed rather likely—he would never give us freedom of movement aboard his vessel. Now then, would he resort to violence in order to be rid of us, or would he drop us off one day on some remote coast? There lay the unknown. All these hypotheses seemed extremely plausible to me, and to hope for freedom through use of force, you had to be a harpooner.
I realized, moreover, that Ned Land’s brooding was getting him madder by the minute. Little by little, I heard those aforesaid cusswords welling up in the depths of his gullet, and I saw his movements turn threatening again. He stood up, pacing in circles like a wild beast in a cage, striking the walls with his foot and fist. Meanwhile the hours passed, our hunger nagged unmercifully, and this time the steward did not appear. Which amounted to forgetting our castaway status for much too long, if they really had good intentions toward us.
Tortured by the growling of his well–built stomach, Ned Land was getting more and more riled, and despite his word of honor, I was in real dread of an explosion when he stood in the presence of one of the men on board.
For two more hours Ned Land’s rage increased. The Canadian shouted and pleaded, but to no avail. The sheet–iron walls were deaf. I didn’t hear a single sound inside this dead–seeming boat. The vessel hadn’t stirred, because I obviously would have felt its hull vibrating under the influence of the propeller. It had undoubtedly sunk into the watery deep and no longer belonged to the outside world. All this dismal silence was terrifying.
As for our neglect, our isolation in the depths of this cell, I was afraid to guess at how long it might last. Little by little, hopes I had entertained after our interview with the ship’s commander were fading away. The gentleness of the man’s gaze, the generosity expressed in his facial features, the nobility of his bearing, all vanished from my memory. I saw this mystifying individual anew for what he inevitably must be: cruel and merciless. I viewed him as outside humanity, beyond all feelings of compassion, the implacable foe of his fellow man, toward whom he must have sworn an undying hate!
But even so, was the man going to let us die of starvation, locked up in this cramped prison, exposed to those horrible temptations to which people are driven by extreme hunger? This grim possibility took on a dreadful intensity in my mind, and fired by my imagination, I felt an unreasoning terror run through me. Conseil stayed calm. Ned Land bellowed.
Just then a noise was audible outside. Footsteps rang on the metal tiling. The locks were turned, the door opened, the steward appeared.
Before I could make a single movement to prevent him, the Canadian rushed at the poor man, threw him down, held him by the throat. The steward was choking in the grip of those powerful hands.
Conseil was already trying to loosen the harpooner’s hands from his half–suffocated victim, and I had gone to join in the rescue, when I was abruptly nailed to the spot by these words pronounced in French:
“Calm down, Mr. Land! And you, professor, kindly listen to me!”
IT WAS THE ship’s commander who had just spoken.
At these words Ned Land stood up quickly. Nearly strangled, the steward staggered out at a signal from his superior; but such was the commander’s authority aboard his vessel, not one gesture gave away the resentment that this man must have felt toward the Canadian. In silence we waited for the outcome of this scene; Conseil, in spite of himself, seemed almost fascinated, I was stunned.
Arms crossed, leaning against a corner of the table, the commander studied us with great care. Was he reluctant to speak further? Did he regret those words he had just pronounced in French? You would have thought so.
After a few moments of silence, which none of us would have dreamed of interrupting:
“Gentlemen,” he said in a calm, penetrating voice, “I speak French, English, German, and Latin with equal fluency. Hence I could have answered you as early as our initial interview, but first I wanted to make your acquaintance and then think things over. Your four versions of the same narrative, perfectly consistent by and large, established your personal identities for me. I now know that sheer chance has placed in my presence Professor Pierre Aronnax, specialist in natural history at the Paris Museum and entrusted with a scientific mission abroad, his manservant Conseil, and Ned Land, a harpooner of Canadian origin aboard the Abraham Lincoln, a frigate in the national navy of the United States of America.”
I bowed in agreement. The commander hadn’t put a question to me. So no answer was called for. This man expressed himself with perfect ease and without a trace of an accent. His phrasing was clear, his words well chosen, his facility in elocution remarkable. And yet, to me, he didn’t have “the feel” of a fellow countryman.
He went on with the conversation as follows:
“No doubt, sir, you’ve felt that I waited rather too long before paying you this second visit. After discovering your identities, I wanted to weigh carefully what policy to pursue toward you. I had great difficulty deciding. Some extremely inconvenient circumstances have brought you into the presence of a man who has cut himself off from humanity. Your coming has disrupted my whole existence.”
“Unintentionally,” I said.
“Unintentionally?” the stranger replied, raising his voice a little. “Was it unintentionally that the Abraham Lincoln hunted me on every sea? Was it unintentionally that you traveled aboard that frigate? Was it unintentionally that your shells bounced off my ship’s hull? Was it unintentionally that Mr. Ned Land hit me with his harpoon?”
I detected a controlled irritation in these words. But there was a perfectly natural reply to these charges, and I made it.
“Sir,” I said, “you’re surely unaware of the discussions that have taken place in Europe and America with yourself as the subject. You don’t realize that various accidents, caused by collisions with your underwater machine, have aroused public passions on those two continents. I’ll spare you the innumerable hypotheses with which we’ve tried to explain this inexplicable phenomenon, whose secret is yours alone. But please understand that the Abraham Lincolnchased you over the Pacific high seas in the belief it was hunting some powerful marine monster, which had to be purged from the ocean at all cost.”
A half smile curled the commander’s lips; then, in a calmer tone:
“Professor Aronnax,” he replied, “do you dare claim that your frigate wouldn’t have chased and cannonaded an underwater boat as readily as a monster?”
This question baffled me, since Commander Farragut would certainly have shown no such hesitation. He would have seen it as his sworn duty to destroy a contrivance of this kind just as promptly as a gigantic narwhale.
“So you understand, sir,” the stranger went on, “that I have a right to treat you as my enemy.”
I kept quiet, with good reason. What was the use of debating such a proposition, when superior force can wipe out the best arguments?
“It took me a good while to decide,” the commander went on. “Nothing obliged me to grant you hospitality. If I were to part company with you, I’d have no personal interest in ever seeing you again. I could put you back on the platform of this ship that has served as your refuge. I could sink under the sea, and I could forget you ever existed. Wouldn’t that be my right?”
“Perhaps it would be the right of a savage,” I replied. “But not that of a civilized man.”
“Professor,” the commander replied swiftly, “I’m not what you term a civilized man! I’ve severed all ties with society, for reasons that I alone have the right to appreciate. Therefore I obey none of its regulations, and I insist that you never invoke them in front of me!”
This was plain speaking. A flash of anger and scorn lit up the stranger’s eyes, and I glimpsed a fearsome past in this man’s life. Not only had he placed himself beyond human laws, he had rendered himself independent, out of all reach, free in the strictest sense of the word! For who would dare chase him to the depths of the sea when he thwarted all attacks on the surface? What ship could withstand a collision with his underwater Monitor? What armor plate, no matter how heavy, could bear the thrusts of his spur? No man among men could call him to account for his actions. God, if he believed in Him, his conscience if he had one—these were the only judges to whom he was answerable.
These thoughts swiftly crossed my mind while this strange individual fell silent, like someone completely self–absorbed. I regarded him with a mixture of fear and fascination, in the same way, no doubt, that Œdipus regarded the Sphinx.
After a fairly long silence, the commander went on with our conversation.
“So I had difficulty deciding,” he said. “But I concluded that my personal interests could be reconciled with that natural compassion to which every human being has a right. Since fate has brought you here, you’ll stay aboard my vessel. You’ll be free here, and in exchange for that freedom, moreover totally related to it, I’ll lay on you just one condition. Your word that you’ll submit to it will be sufficient.”
“Go on, sir,” I replied. “I assume this condition is one an honest man can accept?”
“Yes, sir. Just this. It’s possible that certain unforeseen events may force me to confine you to your cabins for some hours, or even for some days as the case may be. Since I prefer never to use violence, I expect from you in such a case, even more than in any other, your unquestioning obedience. By acting in this way, I shield you from complicity, I absolve you of all responsibility, since I myself make it impossible for you to see what you aren’t meant to see. Do you accept this condition?”
So things happened on board that were quite odd to say the least, things never to be seen by people not placing themselves beyond society’s laws! Among all the surprises the future had in store for me, this would not be the mildest.
“We accept,” I replied. “Only, I’ll ask your permission, sir, to address a question to you, just one.”
“Go ahead, sir.”
“You said we’d be free aboard your vessel?”
“Then I would ask what you mean by this freedom.”
“Why, the freedom to come, go, see, and even closely observe everything happening here—except under certain rare circumstances—in short, the freedom we ourselves enjoy, my companions and I.”
It was obvious that we did not understand each other.
“Pardon me, sir,” I went on, “but that’s merely the freedom that every prisoner has, the freedom to pace his cell! That’s not enough for us.”
“Nevertheless, it will have to do!”
“What! We must give up seeing our homeland, friends, and relatives ever again?”
“Yes, sir. But giving up that intolerable earthly yoke that some men call freedom is perhaps less painful than you think!”
“By thunder!” Ned Land shouted. “I’ll never promise I won’t try getting out of here!”
“I didn’t ask for such a promise, Mr. Land,” the commander replied coldly.
“Sir,” I replied, flaring up in spite of myself, “you’re taking unfair advantage of us! This is sheer cruelty!”
“No, sir, it’s an act of mercy! You’re my prisoners of war! I’ve cared for you when, with a single word, I could plunge you back into the ocean depths! You attacked me! You’ve just stumbled on a secret no living man must probe, the secret of my entire existence! Do you think I’ll send you back to a world that must know nothing more of me? Never! By keeping you on board, it isn’t you whom I care for, it’s me!”
These words indicated that the commander pursued a policy impervious to arguments.
“Then, sir,” I went on, “you give us, quite simply, a choice between life and death?”
“My friends,” I said, “to a question couched in these terms, our answer can be taken for granted. But no solemn promises bind us to the commander of this vessel.”
“None, sir,” the stranger replied.
Then, in a gentler voice, he went on:
“Now, allow me to finish what I have to tell you. I’ve heard of you, Professor Aronnax. You, if not your companions, won’t perhaps complain too much about the stroke of fate that has brought us together. Among the books that make up my favorite reading, you’ll find the work you’ve published on the great ocean depths. I’ve pored over it. You’ve taken your studies as far as terrestrial science can go. But you don’t know everything because you haven’t seen everything. Let me tell you, professor, you won’t regret the time you spend aboard my vessel. You’re going to voyage through a land of wonders. Stunned amazement will probably be your habitual state of mind. It will be a long while before you tire of the sights constantly before your eyes. I’m going to make another underwater tour of the world—perhaps my last, who knows?—and I’ll review everything I’ve studied in the depths of these seas that I’ve crossed so often, and you can be my fellow student. Starting this very day, you’ll enter a new element, you’ll see what no human being has ever seen before—since my men and I no longer count—and thanks to me, you’re going to learn the ultimate secrets of our planet.”
I can’t deny it; the commander’s words had a tremendous effect on me. He had caught me on my weak side, and I momentarily forgot that not even this sublime experience was worth the loss of my freedom. Besides, I counted on the future to resolve this important question. So I was content to reply:
“Sir, even though you’ve cut yourself off from humanity, I can see that you haven’t disowned all human feeling. We’re castaways whom you’ve charitably taken aboard, we’ll never forget that. Speaking for myself, I don’t rule out that the interests of science could override even the need for freedom, which promises me that, in exchange, our encounter will provide great rewards.”
I thought the commander would offer me his hand, to seal our agreement. He did nothing of the sort. I regretted that.
“One last question,” I said, just as this inexplicable being seemed ready to withdraw.
“Ask it, professor.”
“By what name am I to call you?”
“Sir,” the commander replied, “to you, I’m simply Captain Nemo;* to me, you and your companions are simply passengers on the Nautilus.”
*Latin: nemo means “no one.” Ed.
Captain Nemo called out. A steward appeared. The captain gave him his orders in that strange language I couldn’t even identify. Then, turning to the Canadian and Conseil:
“A meal is waiting for you in your cabin,” he told them. “Kindly follow this man.”
“That’s an offer I can’t refuse!” the harpooner replied.
After being confined for over thirty hours, he and Conseil were finally out of this cell.
“And now, Professor Aronnax, our own breakfast is ready. Allow me to lead the way.”
“Yours to command, Captain.”
I followed Captain Nemo, and as soon as I passed through the doorway, I went down a kind of electrically lit passageway that resembled a gangway on a ship. After a stretch of some ten meters, a second door opened before me.
I then entered a dining room, decorated and furnished in austere good taste. Inlaid with ebony trim, tall oaken sideboards stood at both ends of this room, and sparkling on their shelves were staggered rows of earthenware, porcelain, and glass of incalculable value. There silver–plated dinnerware gleamed under rays pouring from light fixtures in the ceiling, whose glare was softened and tempered by delicately painted designs.
In the center of this room stood a table, richly spread. Captain Nemo indicated the place I was to occupy.
“Be seated,” he told me, “and eat like the famished man you must be.”
Our breakfast consisted of several dishes whose contents were all supplied by the sea, and some foods whose nature and derivation were unknown to me. They were good, I admit, but with a peculiar flavor to which I would soon grow accustomed. These various food items seemed to be rich in phosphorous, and I thought that they, too, must have been of marine origin.
Captain Nemo stared at me. I had asked him nothing, but he read my thoughts, and on his own he answered the questions I was itching to address him.
“Most of these dishes are new to you,” he told me. “But you can consume them without fear. They’re healthy and nourishing. I renounced terrestrial foods long ago, and I’m none the worse for it. My crew are strong and full of energy, and they eat what I eat.”
“So,” I said, “all these foods are products of the sea?”
“Yes, professor, the sea supplies all my needs. Sometimes I cast my nets in our wake, and I pull them up ready to burst. Sometimes I go hunting right in the midst of this element that has long seemed so far out of man’s reach, and I corner the game that dwells in my underwater forests. Like the flocks of old Proteus, King Neptune’s shepherd, my herds graze without fear on the ocean’s immense prairies. There I own vast properties that I harvest myself, and which are forever sown by the hand of the Creator of All Things.”
I stared at Captain Nemo in definite astonishment, and I answered him:
“Sir, I understand perfectly how your nets can furnish excellent fish for your table; I understand less how you can chase aquatic game in your underwater forests; but how a piece of red meat, no matter how small, can figure in your menu, that I don’t understand at all.”
“Nor I, sir,” Captain Nemo answered me. “I never touch the flesh of land animals.”
“Nevertheless, this . . . ,” I went on, pointing to a dish where some slices of loin were still left.
“What you believe to be red meat, professor, is nothing other than loin of sea turtle. Similarly, here are some dolphin livers you might mistake for stewed pork. My chef is a skillful food processor who excels at pickling and preserving these various exhibits from the ocean. Feel free to sample all of these foods. Here are some preserves of sea cucumber that a Malaysian would declare to be unrivaled in the entire world, here’s cream from milk furnished by the udders of cetaceans, and sugar from the huge fucus plants in the North Sea; and finally, allow me to offer you some marmalade of sea anemone, equal to that from the tastiest fruits.”
So I sampled away, more as a curiosity seeker than an epicure, while Captain Nemo delighted me with his incredible anecdotes.
“But this sea, Professor Aronnax,” he told me, “this prodigious, inexhaustible wet nurse of a sea not only feeds me, she dresses me as well. That fabric covering you was woven from the masses of filaments that anchor certain seashells; as the ancients were wont to do, it was dyed with purple ink from the murex snail and shaded with violet tints that I extract from a marine slug, the Mediterranean sea hare. The perfumes you’ll find on the washstand in your cabin were produced from the oozings of marine plants. Your mattress was made from the ocean’s softest eelgrass. Your quill pen will be whalebone, your ink a juice secreted by cuttlefish or squid. Everything comes to me from the sea, just as someday everything will return to it!”
“You love the sea, Captain.”
“Yes, I love it! The sea is the be all and end all! It covers seven–tenths of the planet earth. Its breath is clean and healthy. It’s an immense wilderness where a man is never lonely, because he feels life astir on every side. The sea is simply the vehicle for a prodigious, unearthly mode of existence; it’s simply movement and love; it’s living infinity, as one of your poets put it. And in essence, professor, nature is here made manifest by all three of her kingdoms, mineral, vegetable, and animal. The last of these is amply represented by the four zoophyte groups, three classes of articulates, five classes of mollusks, and three vertebrate classes: mammals, reptiles, and those countless legions of fish, an infinite order of animals totaling more than 13,000 species, of which only one–tenth belong to fresh water. The sea is a vast pool of nature. Our globe began with the sea, so to speak, and who can say we won’t end with it! Here lies supreme tranquility. The sea doesn’t belong to tyrants. On its surface they can still exercise their iniquitous claims, battle each other, devour each other, haul every earthly horror. But thirty feet below sea level, their dominion ceases, their influence fades, their power vanishes! Ah, sir, live! Live in the heart of the seas! Here alone lies independence! Here I recognize no superiors! Here I’m free!”
Captain Nemo suddenly fell silent in the midst of this enthusiastic outpouring. Had he let himself get carried away, past the bounds of his habitual reserve? Had he said too much? For a few moments he strolled up and down, all aquiver. Then his nerves grew calmer, his facial features recovered their usual icy composure, and turning to me:
“Now, professor,” he said, “if you’d like to inspect the Nautilus, I’m yours to command.”