THE SAME DAY, I reported to Conseil and Ned Land that part of the foregoing conversation directly concerning them. When I told them we would be lying in Mediterranean waters within two days, Conseil clapped his hands, but the Canadian shrugged his shoulders.
“An underwater tunnel!” he exclaimed. “A connection between two seas! Who ever heard of such malarkey!”
“Ned my friend,” Conseil replied, “had you ever heard of the Nautilus? No, yet here it is! So don’t shrug your shoulders so blithely, and don’t discount something with the feeble excuse that you’ve never heard of it.”
“We’ll soon see!” Ned Land shot back, shaking his head. “After all, I’d like nothing better than to believe in your captain’s little passageway, and may Heaven grant it really does take us to the Mediterranean.”
The same evening, at latitude 21° 30′ north, the Nautilus was afloat on the surface of the sea and drawing nearer to the Arab coast. I spotted Jidda, an important financial center for Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and the East Indies. I could distinguish with reasonable clarity the overall effect of its buildings, the ships made fast along its wharves, and those bigger vessels whose draft of water required them to drop anchor at the port’s offshore mooring. The sun, fairly low on the horizon, struck full force on the houses in this town, accenting their whiteness. Outside the city limits, some wood or reed huts indicated the quarter where the bedouins lived.
Soon Jidda faded into the shadows of evening, and the Nautilus went back beneath the mildly phosphorescent waters.
The next day, February 10, several ships appeared, running on our opposite tack. The Nautilus resumed its underwater navigating; but at the moment of our noon sights, the sea was deserted and the ship rose again to its waterline.
With Ned and Conseil, I went to sit on the platform. The coast to the east looked like a slightly blurred mass in a damp fog.
Leaning against the sides of the skiff, we were chatting of one thing and another, when Ned Land stretched his hand toward a point in the water, saying to me:
“See anything out there, professor?”
“No, Ned,” I replied, “but you know I don’t have your eyes.”
“Take a good look,” Ned went on. “There, ahead to starboard, almost level with the beacon! Don’t you see a mass that seems to be moving around?”
“Right,” I said after observing carefully, “I can make out something like a long, blackish object on the surface of the water.”
“A second Nautilus?” Conseil said.
“No,” the Canadian replied, “unless I’m badly mistaken, that’s some marine animal.”
“Are there whales in the Red Sea?” Conseil asked.
“Yes, my boy,” I replied, “they’re sometimes found here.”
“That’s no whale,” continued Ned Land, whose eyes never strayed from the object they had sighted. “We’re old chums, whales and I, and I couldn’t mistake their little ways.”
“Let’s wait and see,” Conseil said. “The Nautilus is heading that direction, and we’ll soon know what we’re in for.”
In fact, that blackish object was soon only a mile away from us. It looked like a huge reef stranded in midocean. What was it? I still couldn’t make up my mind.
“Oh, it’s moving off! It’s diving!” Ned Land exclaimed. “Damnation! What can that animal be? It doesn’t have a forked tail like baleen whales or sperm whales, and its fins look like sawed–off limbs.”
“But in that case—” I put in.
“Good lord,” the Canadian went on, “it’s rolled over on its back, and it’s raising its breasts in the air!”
“It’s a siren!” Conseil exclaimed. “With all due respect to master, it’s an actual mermaid!”
That word “siren” put me back on track, and I realized that the animal belonged to the order Sirenia: marine creatures that legends have turned into mermaids, half woman, half fish.
“No,” I told Conseil, “that’s no mermaid, it’s an unusual creature of which only a few specimens are left in the Red Sea. That’s a dugong.”
“Order Sirenia, group Pisciforma, subclass Monodelphia, class Mammalia, branch Vertebrata,” Conseil replied.
And when Conseil has spoken, there’s nothing else to be said.
Meanwhile Ned Land kept staring. His eyes were gleaming with desire at the sight of that animal. His hands were ready to hurl a harpoon. You would have thought he was waiting for the right moment to jump overboard and attack the creature in its own element.
“Oh, sir,” he told me in a voice trembling with excitement, “I’ve never killed anything like that!”
His whole being was concentrated in this last word.
Just then Captain Nemo appeared on the platform. He spotted the dugong. He understood the Canadian’s frame of mind and addressed him directly:
“If you held a harpoon, Mr. Land, wouldn’t your hands be itching to put it to work?”
“And just for one day, would it displease you to return to your fisherman’s trade and add this cetacean to the list of those you’ve already hunted down?”
“It wouldn’t displease me one bit.”
“All right, you can try your luck!”
“Thank you, sir,” Ned Land replied, his eyes ablaze.
“Only,” the captain went on, “I urge you to aim carefully at this animal, in your own personal interest.”
“Is the dugong dangerous to attack?” I asked, despite the Canadian’s shrug of the shoulders.
“Yes, sometimes,” the captain replied. “These animals have been known to turn on their assailants and capsize their longboats. But with Mr. Land that danger isn’t to be feared. His eye is sharp, his arm is sure. If I recommend that he aim carefully at this dugong, it’s because the animal is justly regarded as fine game, and I know Mr. Land doesn’t despise a choice morsel.”
“Aha!” the Canadian put in. “This beast offers the added luxury of being good to eat?”
“Yes, Mr. Land. Its flesh is actual red meat, highly prized, and set aside throughout Malaysia for the tables of aristocrats. Accordingly, this excellent animal has been hunted so bloodthirstily that, like its manatee relatives, it has become more and more scarce.”
“In that case, Captain,” Conseil said in all seriousness, “on the offchance that this creature might be the last of its line, wouldn’t it be advisable to spare its life, in the interests of science?”
“Maybe,” the Canadian answered, “it would be better to hunt it down, in the interests of mealtime.”
“Then proceed, Mr. Land,” Captain Nemo replied.
Just then, as mute and emotionless as ever, seven crewmen climbed onto the platform. One carried a harpoon and line similar to those used in whale fishing. Its deck paneling opened, the skiff was wrenched from its socket and launched to sea. Six rowers sat on the thwarts, and the coxswain took the tiller. Ned, Conseil, and I found seats in the stern.
“Aren’t you coming, Captain?” I asked.
“No, sir, but I wish you happy hunting.”
The skiff pulled clear, and carried off by its six oars, it headed swiftly toward the dugong, which by then was floating two miles from the Nautilus.
Arriving within a few cable lengths of the cetacean, our longboat slowed down, and the sculls dipped noiselessly into the tranquil waters. Harpoon in hand, Ned Land went to take his stand in the skiff’s bow. Harpoons used for hunting whales are usually attached to a very long rope that pays out quickly when the wounded animal drags it with him. But this rope measured no more than about ten fathoms, and its end had simply been fastened to a small barrel that, while floating, would indicate the dugong’s movements beneath the waters.
I stood up and could clearly observe the Canadian’s adversary. This dugong—which also boasts the name halicore—closely resembled a manatee. Its oblong body ended in a very long caudal fin and its lateral fins in actual fingers. It differs from the manatee in that its upper jaw is armed with two long, pointed teeth that form diverging tusks on either side.
This dugong that Ned Land was preparing to attack was of colossal dimensions, easily exceeding seven meters in length. It didn’t stir and seemed to be sleeping on the surface of the waves, a circumstance that should have made it easier to capture.
The skiff approached cautiously to within three fathoms of the animal. The oars hung suspended above their rowlocks. I was crouching. His body leaning slightly back, Ned Land brandished his harpoon with expert hands.
Suddenly a hissing sound was audible, and the dugong disappeared. Although the harpoon had been forcefully hurled, it apparently had hit only water.
“Damnation!” exclaimed the furious Canadian. “I missed it!”
“No,” I said, “the animal’s wounded, there’s its blood; but your weapon didn’t stick in its body.”
“My harpoon! Get my harpoon!” Ned Land exclaimed.
The sailors went back to their sculling, and the coxswain steered the longboat toward the floating barrel. We fished up the harpoon, and the skiff started off in pursuit of the animal.
The latter returned from time to time to breathe at the surface of the sea. Its wound hadn’t weakened it because it went with tremendous speed. Driven by energetic arms, the longboat flew on its trail. Several times we got within a few fathoms of it, and the Canadian hovered in readiness to strike; but then the dugong would steal away with a sudden dive, and it proved impossible to overtake the beast.
I’ll let you assess the degree of anger consuming our impatient Ned Land. He hurled at the hapless animal the most potent swearwords in the English language. For my part, I was simply distressed to see this dugong outwit our every scheme.
We chased it unflaggingly for a full hour, and I’d begun to think it would prove too difficult to capture, when the animal got the untimely idea of taking revenge on us, a notion it would soon have cause to regret. It wheeled on the skiff, to assault us in its turn.
This maneuver did not escape the Canadian.
“Watch out!” he said.
The coxswain pronounced a few words in his bizarre language, and no doubt he alerted his men to keep on their guard.
Arriving within twenty feet of the skiff, the dugong stopped, sharply sniffing the air with its huge nostrils, pierced not at the tip of its muzzle but on its topside. Then it gathered itself and sprang at us.
The skiff couldn’t avoid the collision. Half overturned, it shipped a ton or two of water that we had to bail out. But thanks to our skillful coxswain, we were fouled on the bias rather than broadside, so we didn’t capsize. Clinging to the stempost, Ned Land thrust his harpoon again and again into the gigantic animal, which imbedded its teeth in our gunwale and lifted the longboat out of the water as a lion would lift a deer. We were thrown on top of each other, and I have no idea how the venture would have ended had not the Canadian, still thirsting for the beast’s blood, finally pierced it to the heart.
I heard its teeth grind on sheet iron, and the dugong disappeared, taking our harpoon along with it. But the barrel soon popped up on the surface, and a few moments later the animal’s body appeared and rolled over on its back. Our skiff rejoined it, took it in tow, and headed to the Nautilus.
It took pulleys of great strength to hoist this dugong onto the platform. The beast weighed 5,000 kilograms. It was carved up in sight of the Canadian, who remained to watch every detail of the operation. At dinner the same day, my steward served me some slices of this flesh, skillfully dressed by the ship’s cook. I found it excellent, even better than veal if not beef.
The next morning, February 11, the Nautilus’s pantry was enriched by more dainty game. A covey of terns alighted on the Nautilus. They were a species of Sterna nilotica unique to Egypt: beak black, head gray and stippled, eyes surrounded by white dots, back, wings, and tail grayish, belly and throat white, feet red. Also caught were a couple dozen Nile duck, superior–tasting wildfowl whose neck and crown of the head are white speckled with black.
By then the Nautilus had reduced speed. It moved ahead at a saunter, so to speak. I observed that the Red Sea’s water was becoming less salty the closer we got to Suez.
Near five o’clock in the afternoon, we sighted Cape Ras Mohammed to the north. This cape forms the tip of Arabia Petraea, which lies between the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba.
The Nautilus entered the Strait of Jubal, which leads to the Gulf of Suez. I could clearly make out a high mountain crowning Ras Mohammed between the two gulfs. It was Mt. Horeb, that biblical Mt. Sinai on whose summit Moses met God face to face, that summit the mind’s eye always pictures as wreathed in lightning.
At six o’clock, sometimes afloat and sometimes submerged, the Nautilus passed well out from El Tur, which sat at the far end of a bay whose waters seemed to be dyed red, as Captain Nemo had already mentioned. Then night fell in the midst of a heavy silence occasionally broken by the calls of pelicans and nocturnal birds, by the sound of surf chafing against rocks, or by the distant moan of a steamer churning the waves of the gulf with noisy blades.
From eight to nine o’clock, the Nautilus stayed a few meters beneath the waters. According to my calculations, we had to be quite close to Suez. Through the panels in the lounge, I spotted rocky bottoms brightly lit by our electric rays. It seemed to me that the strait was getting narrower and narrower.
At 9:15 when our boat returned to the surface, I climbed onto the platform. I was quite impatient to clear Captain Nemo’s tunnel, couldn’t sit still, and wanted to breathe the fresh night air.
Soon, in the shadows, I spotted a pale signal light glimmering a mile away, half discolored by mist.
“A floating lighthouse,” said someone next to me.
I turned and discovered the captain.
“That’s the floating signal light of Suez,” he went on. “It won’t be long before we reach the entrance to the tunnel.”
“It can’t be very easy to enter it.”
“No, sir. Accordingly, I’m in the habit of staying in the pilothouse and directing maneuvers myself. And now if you’ll kindly go below, Professor Aronnax, the Nautilus is about to sink beneath the waves, and it will only return to the surface after we’ve cleared the Arabian Tunnel.”
I followed Captain Nemo. The hatch closed, the ballast tanks filled with water, and the submersible sank some ten meters down.
Just as I was about to repair to my stateroom, the captain stopped me.
“Professor,” he said to me, “would you like to go with me to the wheelhouse?”
“I was afraid to ask,” I replied.
“Come along, then. This way, you’ll learn the full story about this combination underwater and underground navigating.”
Captain Nemo led me to the central companionway. In midstair he opened a door, went along the upper gangways, and arrived at the wheelhouse, which, as you know, stands at one end of the platform.
It was a cabin measuring six feet square and closely resembling those occupied by the helmsmen of steamboats on the Mississippi or Hudson rivers. In the center stood an upright wheel geared to rudder cables running to the Nautilus’sstern. Set in the cabin’s walls were four deadlights, windows of biconvex glass that enabled the man at the helm to see in every direction.
The cabin was dark; but my eyes soon grew accustomed to its darkness and I saw the pilot, a muscular man whose hands rested on the pegs of the wheel. Outside, the sea was brightly lit by the beacon shining behind the cabin at the other end of the platform.
“Now,” Captain Nemo said, “let’s look for our passageway.”
Electric wires linked the pilothouse with the engine room, and from this cabin the captain could simultaneously signal heading and speed to his Nautilus. He pressed a metal button and at once the propeller slowed down significantly.
I stared in silence at the high, sheer wall we were skirting just then, the firm base of the sandy mountains on the coast. For an hour we went along it in this fashion, staying only a few meters away. Captain Nemo never took his eyes off the two concentric circles of the compass hanging in the cabin. At a mere gesture from him, the helmsman would instantly change the Nautilus’s heading.
Standing by the port deadlight, I spotted magnificent coral substructures, zoophytes, algae, and crustaceans with enormous quivering claws that stretched forth from crevices in the rock.
At 10:15 Captain Nemo himself took the helm. Dark and deep, a wide gallery opened ahead of us. The Nautilus was brazenly swallowed up. Strange rumblings were audible along our sides. It was the water of the Red Sea, hurled toward the Mediterranean by the tunnel’s slope. Our engines tried to offer resistance by churning the waves with propeller in reverse, but the Nautilus went with the torrent, as swift as an arrow.
Along the narrow walls of this passageway, I saw only brilliant streaks, hard lines, fiery furrows, all scrawled by our speeding electric light. With my hand I tried to curb the pounding of my heart.
At 10:35 Captain Nemo left the steering wheel and turned to me:
“The Mediterranean,” he told me.
In less than twenty minutes, swept along by the torrent, the Nautilus had just cleared the Isthmus of Suez.
AT SUNRISE the next morning, February 12, the Nautilus rose to the surface of the waves.
I rushed onto the platform. The hazy silhouette of Pelusium was outlined three miles to the south. A torrent had carried us from one sea to the other. But although that tunnel was easy to descend, going back up must have been impossible.
Near seven o’clock Ned and Conseil joined me. Those two inseparable companions had slept serenely, utterly unaware of the Nautilus’s feat.
“Well, Mr. Naturalist,” the Canadian asked in a gently mocking tone, “and how about that Mediterranean?”
“We’re floating on its surface, Ned my friend.”
“What!” Conseil put in. “Last night . . . ?”
“Yes, last night, in a matter of minutes, we cleared that insuperable isthmus.”
“I don’t believe a word of it,” the Canadian replied.
“And you’re in the wrong, Mr. Land,” I went on. “That flat coastline curving southward is the coast of Egypt.”
“Tell it to the marines, sir,” answered the stubborn Canadian.
“But if Master says so,” Conseil told him, “then so be it.”
“What’s more, Ned,” I said, “Captain Nemo himself did the honors in his tunnel, and I stood beside him in the pilothouse while he steered the Nautilus through that narrow passageway.”
“You hear, Ned?” Conseil said.
“And you, Ned, who have such good eyes,” I added, “you can spot the jetties of Port Said stretching out to sea.”
The Canadian looked carefully.
“Correct,” he said. “You’re right, Professor, and your captain’s a superman. We’re in the Mediterranean. Fine. So now let’s have a chat about our little doings, if you please, but in such a way that nobody overhears.”
I could easily see what the Canadian was driving at. In any event, I thought it best to let him have his chat, and we all three went to sit next to the beacon, where we were less exposed to the damp spray from the billows.
“Now, Ned, we’re all ears,” I said. “What have you to tell us?”
“What I’ve got to tell you is very simple,” the Canadian replied. “We’re in Europe, and before Captain Nemo’s whims take us deep into the polar seas or back to Oceania, I say we should leave this Nautilus.”
I confess that such discussions with the Canadian always baffled me. I didn’t want to restrict my companions’ freedom in any way, and yet I had no desire to leave Captain Nemo. Thanks to him and his submersible, I was finishing my undersea research by the day, and I was rewriting my book on the great ocean depths in the midst of its very element. Would I ever again have such an opportunity to observe the ocean’s wonders? Absolutely not! So I couldn’t entertain this idea of leaving the Nautilus before completing our course of inquiry.
“Ned my friend,” I said, “answer me honestly. Are you bored with this ship? Are you sorry that fate has cast you into Captain Nemo’s hands?”
The Canadian paused for a short while before replying. Then, crossing his arms:
“Honestly,” he said, “I’m not sorry about this voyage under the seas. I’ll be glad to have done it, but in order to have done it, it has to finish. That’s my feeling.”
“It will finish, Ned.”
“Where and when?”
“Where? I don’t know. When? I can’t say. Or, rather, I suppose it will be over when these seas have nothing more to teach us. Everything that begins in this world must inevitably come to an end.”
“I think as Master does,” Conseil replied, “and it’s extremely possible that after crossing every sea on the globe, Captain Nemo will bid the three of us a fond farewell.”
“Bid us a fond farewell?” the Canadian exclaimed. “You mean beat us to a fare–thee–well!”
“Let’s not exaggerate, Mr. Land,” I went on. “We have nothing to fear from the captain, but neither do I share Conseil’s views. We’re privy to the Nautilus’s secrets, and I don’t expect that its commander, just to set us free, will meekly stand by while we spread those secrets all over the world.”
“But in that case what do you expect?” the Canadian asked.
“That we’ll encounter advantageous conditions for escaping just as readily in six months as now.”
“Great Scott!” Ned Land put in. “And where, if you please, will we be in six months, Mr. Naturalist?”
“Perhaps here, perhaps in China. You know how quickly the Nautilus moves. It crosses oceans like swallows cross the air or express trains continents. It doesn’t fear heavily traveled seas. Who can say it won’t hug the coasts of France, England, or America, where an escape attempt could be carried out just as effectively as here.”
“Professor Aronnax,” the Canadian replied, “your arguments are rotten to the core. You talk way off in the future: ‘We’ll be here, we’ll be there!’ Me, I’m talking about right now: we are here, and we must take advantage of it!”
I was hard pressed by Ned Land’s common sense, and I felt myself losing ground. I no longer knew what arguments to put forward on my behalf.
“Sir,” Ned went on, “let’s suppose that by some impossibility, Captain Nemo offered your freedom to you this very day. Would you accept?”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“And suppose he adds that this offer he’s making you today won’t ever be repeated, then would you accept?”
I did not reply.
“And what thinks our friend Conseil?” Ned Land asked.
“Your friend Conseil,” the fine lad replied serenely, “has nothing to say for himself. He’s a completely disinterested party on this question. Like his master, like his comrade Ned, he’s a bachelor. Neither wife, parents, nor children are waiting for him back home. He’s in Master’s employ, he thinks like Master, he speaks like Master, and much to his regret, he can’t be counted on to form a majority. Only two persons face each other here: Master on one side, Ned Land on the other. That said, your friend Conseil is listening, and he’s ready to keep score.”
I couldn’t help smiling as Conseil wiped himself out of existence. Deep down, the Canadian must have been overjoyed at not having to contend with him.
“Then, sir,” Ned Land said, “since Conseil is no more, we’ll have this discussion between just the two of us. I’ve talked, you’ve listened. What’s your reply?”
It was obvious that the matter had to be settled, and evasions were distasteful to me.
“Ned my friend,” I said, “here’s my reply. You have right on your side and my arguments can’t stand up to yours. It will never do to count on Captain Nemo’s benevolence. The most ordinary good sense would forbid him to set us free. On the other hand, good sense decrees that we take advantage of our first opportunity to leave the Nautilus.”
“Fine, Professor Aronnax, that’s wisely said.”
“But one proviso,” I said, “just one. The opportunity must be the real thing. Our first attempt to escape must succeed, because if it misfires, we won’t get a second chance, and Captain Nemo will never forgive us.”
“That’s also well put,” the Canadian replied. “But your proviso applies to any escape attempt, whether it happens in two years or two days. So this is still the question: if a promising opportunity comes up, we have to grab it.”
“Agreed. And now, Ned, will you tell me what you mean by a promising opportunity?”
“One that leads the Nautilus on a cloudy night within a short distance of some European coast.”
“And you’ll try to get away by swimming?”
“Yes, if we’re close enough to shore and the ship’s afloat on the surface. No, if we’re well out and the ship’s navigating under the waters.”
“And in that event?”
“In that event I’ll try to get hold of the skiff. I know how to handle it. We’ll stick ourselves inside, undo the bolts, and rise to the surface, without the helmsman in the bow seeing a thing.”
“Fine, Ned. Stay on the lookout for such an opportunity, but don’t forget, one slipup will finish us.”
“I won’t forget, sir.”
“And now, Ned, would you like to know my overall thinking on your plan?”
“Gladly, Professor Aronnax.”
“Well then, I think—and I don’t mean ‘I hope’—that your promising opportunity won’t ever arise.”
“Because Captain Nemo recognizes that we haven’t given up all hope of recovering our freedom, and he’ll keep on his guard, above all in seas within sight of the coasts of Europe.”
“I’m of Master’s opinion,” Conseil said.
“We’ll soon see,” Ned Land replied, shaking his head with a determined expression.
“And now, Ned Land,” I added, “let’s leave it at that. Not another word on any of this. The day you’re ready, alert us and we’re with you. I turn it all over to you.”
That’s how we ended this conversation, which later was to have such serious consequences. At first, I must say, events seemed to confirm my forecasts, much to the Canadian’s despair. Did Captain Nemo view us with distrust in these heavily traveled seas, or did he simply want to hide from the sight of those ships of every nation that plowed the Mediterranean? I have no idea, but usually he stayed in midwater and well out from any coast. Either the Nautilussurfaced only enough to let its pilothouse emerge, or it slipped away to the lower depths, although, between the Greek Islands and Asia Minor, we didn’t find bottom even at 2,000 meters down.
Accordingly, I became aware of the isle of Karpathos, one of the Sporades Islands, only when Captain Nemo placed his finger over a spot on the world map and quoted me this verse from Virgil:
Est in Carpathio Neptuni gurgite vates
Caeruleus Proteus . . .*
It was indeed that bygone abode of Proteus, the old shepherd of King Neptune’s flocks: an island located between Rhodes and Crete, which Greeks now call Karpathos, Italians Scarpanto. Through the lounge window I could see only its granite bedrock.
The next day, February 14, I decided to spend a few hours studying the fish of this island group; but for whatever reason, the panels remained hermetically sealed. After determining the Nautilus’s heading, I noted that it was proceeding toward the ancient island of Crete, also called Candia. At the time I had shipped aboard the Abraham Lincoln, this whole island was in rebellion against its tyrannical rulers, the Ottoman Empire of Turkey. But since then I had absolutely no idea what happened to this revolution, and Captain Nemo, deprived of all contact with the shore, was hardly the man to keep me informed.
So I didn’t allude to this event when, that evening, I chanced to be alone with the captain in the lounge. Besides, he seemed silent and preoccupied. Then, contrary to custom, he ordered that both panels in the lounge be opened, and going from the one to the other, he carefully observed the watery mass. For what purpose? I hadn’t a guess, and for my part, I spent my time studying the fish that passed before my eyes.
Among others I noted that sand goby mentioned by Aristotle and commonly known by the name sea loach, which is encountered exclusively in the salty waters next to the Nile Delta. Near them some semiphosphorescent red porgy rolled by, a variety of gilthead that the Egyptians ranked among their sacred animals, lauding them in religious ceremonies when their arrival in the river’s waters announced the fertile flood season. I also noticed some wrasse known as the tapiro, three decimeters long, bony fish with transparent scales whose bluish gray color is mixed with red spots; they’re enthusiastic eaters of marine vegetables, which gives them an exquisite flavor; hence these tapiro were much in demand by the epicures of ancient Rome, and their entrails were dressed with brains of peacock, tongue of flamingo, and testes of moray to make that divine platter that so enraptured the Roman emperor Vitellius.
Another resident of these seas caught my attention and revived all my memories of antiquity. This was the remora, which travels attached to the bellies of sharks; as the ancients tell it, when these little fish cling to the undersides of a ship, they can bring it to a halt, and by so impeding Mark Antony’s vessel during the Battle of Actium, one of them facilitated the victory of Augustus Caesar. From such slender threads hang the destinies of nations! I also observed some wonderful snappers belonging to the order Lutianida, sacred fish for the Greeks, who claimed they could drive off sea monsters from the waters they frequent; their Greek name anthias means “flower,” and they live up to it in the play of their colors and in those fleeting reflections that turn their dorsal fins into watered silk; their hues are confined to a gamut of reds, from the pallor of pink to the glow of ruby. I couldn’t take my eyes off these marine wonders, when I was suddenly jolted by an unexpected apparition.
In the midst of the waters, a man appeared, a diver carrying a little leather bag at his belt. It was no corpse lost in the waves. It was a living man, swimming vigorously, sometimes disappearing to breathe at the surface, then instantly diving again.
I turned to Captain Nemo, and in an agitated voice:
“A man! A castaway!” I exclaimed. “We must rescue him at all cost!”
The captain didn’t reply but went to lean against the window.
The man drew near, and gluing his face to the panel, he stared at us.
To my deep astonishment, Captain Nemo gave him a signal. The diver answered with his hand, immediately swam up to the surface of the sea, and didn’t reappear.
“Don’t be alarmed,” the captain told me. “That’s Nicolas from Cape Matapan, nicknamed ‘Il Pesce.’* He’s well known throughout the Cyclades Islands. A bold diver! Water is his true element, and he lives in the sea more than on shore, going constantly from one island to another, even to Crete.”
“You know him, captain?”
“Why not, Professor Aronnax?”
This said, Captain Nemo went to a cabinet standing near the lounge’s left panel. Next to this cabinet I saw a chest bound with hoops of iron, its lid bearing a copper plaque that displayed the Nautilus’s monogram with its motto Mobilis in Mobili.
Just then, ignoring my presence, the captain opened this cabinet, a sort of safe that contained a large number of ingots.
They were gold ingots. And they represented an enormous sum of money. Where had this precious metal come from? How had the captain amassed this gold, and what was he about to do with it?
I didn’t pronounce a word. I gaped. Captain Nemo took out the ingots one by one and arranged them methodically inside the chest, filling it to the top. At which point I estimate that it held more than 1,000 kilograms of gold, in other words, close to ₣5,000,000.
After securely fastening the chest, Captain Nemo wrote an address on its lid in characters that must have been modern Greek.
This done, the captain pressed a button whose wiring was in communication with the crew’s quarters. Four men appeared and, not without difficulty, pushed the chest out of the lounge. Then I heard them hoist it up the iron companionway by means of pulleys.
Just then Captain Nemo turned to me:
“You were saying, Professor?” he asked me.
“I wasn’t saying a thing, Captain.”
“Then, sir, with your permission, I’ll bid you good evening.”
And with that, Captain Nemo left the lounge.
I reentered my stateroom, very puzzled, as you can imagine. I tried in vain to fall asleep. I kept searching for a relationship between the appearance of the diver and that chest filled with gold. Soon, from certain rolling and pitching movements, I sensed that the Nautilus had left the lower strata and was back on the surface of the water.
Then I heard the sound of footsteps on the platform. I realized that the skiff was being detached and launched to sea. For an instant it bumped the Nautilus’s side, then all sounds ceased.
Two hours later, the same noises, the same comings and goings, were repeated. Hoisted on board, the longboat was readjusted into its socket, and the Nautilus plunged back beneath the waves.
So those millions had been delivered to their address. At what spot on the continent? Who was the recipient of Captain Nemo’s gold?
The next day I related the night’s events to Conseil and the Canadian, events that had aroused my curiosity to a fever pitch. My companions were as startled as I was.
“But where does he get those millions?” Ned Land asked.
To this no reply was possible. After breakfast I made my way to the lounge and went about my work. I wrote up my notes until five o’clock in the afternoon. Just then—was it due to some personal indisposition?—I felt extremely hot and had to take off my jacket made of fan mussel fabric. A perplexing circumstance because we weren’t in the low latitudes, and besides, once the Nautilus was submerged, it shouldn’t be subject to any rise in temperature. I looked at the pressure gauge. It marked a depth of sixty feet, a depth beyond the reach of atmospheric heat.
I kept on working, but the temperature rose to the point of becoming unbearable.
“Could there be a fire on board?” I wondered.
I was about to leave the lounge when Captain Nemo entered. He approached the thermometer, consulted it, and turned to me:
“42° centigrade,” he said.
“I’ve detected as much, Captain,” I replied, “and if it gets even slightly hotter, we won’t be able to stand it.”
“Oh, professor, it won’t get any hotter unless we want it to!”
“You mean you can control this heat?”
“No, but I can back away from the fireplace producing it.”
“So it’s outside?”
“Surely. We’re cruising in a current of boiling water.”
“It can’t be!” I exclaimed.
The panels had opened, and I could see a completely white sea around the Nautilus. Steaming sulfurous fumes uncoiled in the midst of waves bubbling like water in a boiler. I leaned my hand against one of the windows, but the heat was so great, I had to snatch it back.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“Near the island of Santorini, professor,” the captain answered me, “and right in the channel that separates the volcanic islets of Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni. I wanted to offer you the unusual sight of an underwater eruption.”
“I thought,” I said, “that the formation of such new islands had come to an end.”
“Nothing ever comes to an end in these volcanic waterways,” Captain Nemo replied, “and thanks to its underground fires, our globe is continuously under construction in these regions. According to the Latin historians Cassiodorus and Pliny, by the year 19 of the Christian era, a new island, the divine Thera, had already appeared in the very place these islets have more recently formed. Then Thera sank under the waves, only to rise and sink once more in the year 69 A.D. From that day to this, such plutonic construction work has been in abeyance. But on February 3, 1866, a new islet named George Island emerged in the midst of sulfurous steam near Nea Kameni and was fused to it on the 6th of the same month. Seven days later, on February 13, the islet of Aphroessa appeared, leaving a ten–meter channel between itself and Nea Kameni. I was in these seas when that phenomenon occurred and I was able to observe its every phase. The islet of Aphroessa was circular in shape, measuring 300 feet in diameter and thirty feet in height. It was made of black, glassy lava mixed with bits of feldspar. Finally, on March 10, a smaller islet called Reka appeared next to Nea Kameni, and since then, these three islets have fused to form one single, selfsame island.”
“What about this channel we’re in right now?” I asked.
“Here it is,” Captain Nemo replied, showing me a chart of the Greek Islands. “You observe that I’ve entered the new islets in their place.”
“But will this channel fill up one day?”
“Very likely, Professor Aronnax, because since 1866 eight little lava islets have surged up in front of the port of St. Nicolas on Palea Kameni. So it’s obvious that Nea and Palea will join in days to come. In the middle of the Pacific, tiny infusoria build continents, but here they’re built by volcanic phenomena. Look, sir! Look at the construction work going on under these waves.”
I returned to the window. The Nautilus was no longer moving. The heat had become unbearable. From the white it had recently been, the sea was turning red, a coloration caused by the presence of iron salts. Although the lounge was hermetically sealed, it was filling with an intolerable stink of sulfur, and I could see scarlet flames of such brightness, they overpowered our electric light.
I was swimming in perspiration, I was stifling, I was about to be cooked. Yes, I felt myself cooking in actual fact!
“We can’t stay any longer in this boiling water,” I told the captain.
“No, it wouldn’t be advisable,” replied Nemo the Emotionless.
He gave an order. The Nautilus tacked about and retreated from this furnace it couldn’t brave with impunity. A quarter of an hour later, we were breathing fresh air on the surface of the waves.
It then occurred to me that if Ned had chosen these waterways for our escape attempt, we wouldn’t have come out alive from this sea of fire.
The next day, February 16, we left this basin, which tallies depths of 3,000 meters between Rhodes and Alexandria, and passing well out from Cerigo Island after doubling Cape Matapan, the Nautilus left the Greek Islands behind.