Vingt mille lieues sous.., p.20

Vingt mille lieues sous les mers. English, page 20


Vingt mille lieues sous les mers. English

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  And there was good reason to be excited! In fact, as naturalistshave ventured to observe, "dextrality" is a well-known law of nature.In their rotational and orbital movements, stars and their satellites gofrom right to left. Man uses his right hand more often than his left,and consequently his various instruments and equipment (staircases, locks,watch springs, etc.) are designed to be used in a right-to-left manner.Now then, nature has generally obeyed this law in coiling her shells.They're right-handed with only rare exceptions, and when by chancea shell's spiral is left-handed, collectors will pay its weightin gold for it.

  So Conseil and I were deep in the contemplation of our treasure,and I was solemnly promising myself to enrich the Paris Museumwith it, when an ill-timed stone, hurled by one of the islanders,whizzed over and shattered the valuable object in Conseil's hands.

  I gave a yell of despair! Conseil pounced on his rifle and aimedat a savage swinging a sling just ten meters away from him.I tried to stop him, but his shot went off and shattered a braceletof amulets dangling from the islander's arm.

  "Conseil!" I shouted. "Conseil!"

  "Eh? What? Didn't master see that this man-eater initiated the attack?"

  "A shell isn't worth a human life!" I told him.

  "Oh, the rascal!" Conseil exclaimed. "I'd rather he crackedmy shoulder!"

  Conseil was in dead earnest, but I didn't subscribe to his views.However, the situation had changed in only a short time and wehadn't noticed. Now some twenty dugout canoes were surroundingthe Nautilus. Hollowed from tree trunks, these dugouts were long,narrow, and well designed for speed, keeping their balance by meansof two bamboo poles that floated on the surface of the water.They were maneuvered by skillful, half-naked paddlers, and I viewedtheir advance with definite alarm.

  It was obvious these Papuans had already entered into relations withEuropeans and knew their ships. But this long, iron cylinder lyingin the bay, with no masts or funnels--what were they to make of it?Nothing good, because at first they kept it at a respectful distance.However, seeing that it stayed motionless, they regained confidencelittle by little and tried to become more familiar with it.Now then, it was precisely this familiarity that we needed to prevent.Since our weapons made no sound when they went off, they wouldhave only a moderate effect on these islanders, who reputedlyrespect nothing but noisy mechanisms. Without thunderclaps,lightning bolts would be much less frightening, although the dangerlies in the flash, not the noise.

  Just then the dugout canoes drew nearer to the Nautilus, and a cloudof arrows burst over us.

  "Fire and brimstone, it's hailing!" Conseil said."And poisoned hail perhaps!"

  "We've got to alert Captain Nemo," I said, reentering the hatch.

  I went below to the lounge. I found no one there. I ventureda knock at the door opening into the captain's stateroom.

  The word "Enter!" answered me. I did so and found Captain Nemobusy with calculations in which there was no shortage of X andother algebraic signs.

  "Am I disturbing you?" I said out of politeness.

  "Correct, Professor Aronnax," the captain answered me."But I imagine you have pressing reasons for looking me up?"

  "Very pressing. Native dugout canoes are surrounding us, and in a fewminutes we're sure to be assaulted by several hundred savages."

  "Ah!" Captain Nemo put in serenely. "They've come in their dugouts?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Well, sir, closing the hatches should do the trick."

  "Precisely, and that's what I came to tell you--"

  "Nothing easier," Captain Nemo said.

  And he pressed an electric button, transmitting an order tothe crew's quarters.

  "There, sir, all under control!" he told me after a few moments."The skiff is in place and the hatches are closed. I don't imagineyou're worried that these gentlemen will stave in walls that shellsfrom your frigate couldn't breach?"

  "No, captain, but one danger still remains."

  "What's that, sir?"

  "Tomorrow at about this time, we'll need to reopen the hatchesto renew the Nautilus's air."

  "No argument, sir, since our craft breathes in the mannerfavored by cetaceans."

  "But if these Papuans are occupying the platform at that moment,I don't see how you can prevent them from entering."

  "Then, sir, you assume they'll board the ship?"

  "I'm certain of it."

  "Well, sir, let them come aboard. I see no reason to prevent them.Deep down they're just poor devils, these Papuans, and I don'twant my visit to Gueboroa Island to cost the life of a single oneof these unfortunate people!"

  On this note I was about to withdraw; but Captain Nemo detainedme and invited me to take a seat next to him. He questioned mewith interest on our excursions ashore and on our hunting, but seemednot to understand the Canadian's passionate craving for red meat.Then our conversation skimmed various subjects, and without beingmore forthcoming, Captain Nemo proved more affable.

  Among other things, we came to talk of the Nautilus's circumstances,aground in the same strait where Captain Dumont d'Urville hadnearly miscarried. Then, pertinent to this:

  "He was one of your great seamen," the captain told me,"one of your shrewdest navigators, that d'Urville! He wasthe Frenchman's Captain Cook. A man wise but unlucky!Braving the ice banks of the South Pole, the coral of Oceania,the cannibals of the Pacific, only to perish wretchedly in a train wreck!If that energetic man was able to think about his life in itslast seconds, imagine what his final thoughts must have been!"

  As he spoke, Captain Nemo seemed deeply moved, an emotion I feltwas to his credit.

  Then, chart in hand, we returned to the deeds of the French navigator:his voyages to circumnavigate the globe, his double attempt atthe South Pole, which led to his discovery of the Ad?lie Coastand the Louis-Philippe Peninsula, finally his hydrographic surveysof the chief islands in Oceania.

  "What your d'Urville did on the surface of the sea," Captain Nemotold me, "I've done in the ocean's interior, but more easily,more completely than he. Constantly tossed about by hurricanes,the Zealous and the new Astrolabe couldn't compare with the Nautilus,a quiet work room truly at rest in the midst of the waters!"

  "Even so, captain," I said, "there is one major similarity betweenDumont d'Urville's sloops of war and the Nautilus."

  "What's that, sir?"

  "Like them, the Nautilus has run aground!"

  "The Nautilus is not aground, sir," Captain Nemo replied icily."The Nautilus was built to rest on the ocean floor, and I don'tneed to undertake the arduous labors, the maneuvers d'Urvillehad to attempt in order to float off his sloops of war.The Zealous and the new Astrolabe wellnigh perished, but my Nautilusis in no danger. Tomorrow, on the day stated and at the hour stated,the tide will peacefully lift it off, and it will resume its navigatingthrough the seas."

  "Captain," I said, "I don't doubt--"

  "Tomorrow," Captain Nemo added, standing up, "tomorrow at2:40 in the afternoon, the Nautilus will float off and exitthe Torres Strait undamaged."

  Pronouncing these words in an extremely sharp tone, Captain Nemo gaveme a curt bow. This was my dismissal, and I reentered my stateroom.

  There I found Conseil, who wanted to know the upshot of my interviewwith the captain.

  "My boy," I replied, "when I expressed the belief that these Papuannatives were a threat to his Nautilus, the captain answeredme with great irony. So I've just one thing to say to you:have faith in him and sleep in peace."

  "Master has no need for my services?"

  "No, my friend. What's Ned Land up to?"

  "Begging master's indulgence," Conseil replied, "but our friend Nedis concocting a kangaroo pie that will be the eighth wonder!"

  I was left to myself; I went to bed but slept pretty poorly.I kept hearing noises from the savages, who were stamping onthe platform and letting out deafening yells. The night passedin this way, without the crew ever emerging from their usual inertia.They were no more disturbed b
y the presence of these man-eatersthan soldiers in an armored fortress are troubled by ants runningover the armor plate.

  I got up at six o'clock in the morning. The hatches weren't open.So the air inside hadn't been renewed; but the air tanks were keptfull for any eventuality and would function appropriately to shoota few cubic meters of oxygen into the Nautilus's thin atmosphere.

  I worked in my stateroom until noon without seeing Captain Nemoeven for an instant. Nobody on board seemed to be making anypreparations for departure.

  I still waited for a while, then I made my way to the main lounge.Its timepiece marked 2:30. In ten minutes the tide would reach itsmaximum elevation, and if Captain Nemo hadn't made a rash promise,the Nautilus would immediately break free. If not, many monthsmight pass before it could leave its coral bed.

  But some preliminary vibrations could soon be felt over the boat's hull.I heard its plating grind against the limestone roughness ofthat coral base.

  At 2:35 Captain Nemo appeared in the lounge.

  "We're about to depart," he said.

  "Ah!" I put in.

  "I've given orders to open the hatches."

  "What about the Papuans?"

  "What about them?" Captain Nemo replied, with a light shrugof his shoulders.

  "Won't they come inside the Nautilus?"

  "How will they manage that?"

  "By jumping down the hatches you're about to open."

  "Professor Aronnax," Captain Nemo replied serenely, "the Nautilus'shatches aren't to be entered in that fashion even when they're open."

  I gaped at the captain.

  "You don't understand?" he said to me.

  "Not in the least."

  "Well, come along and you'll see!"

  I headed to the central companionway. There, very puzzled,Ned Land and Conseil watched the crewmen opening the hatches,while a frightful clamor and furious shouts resounded outside.

  The hatch lids fell back onto the outer plating.Twenty horrible faces appeared. But when the first islander laidhands on the companionway railing, he was flung backward by someinvisible power, lord knows what! He ran off, howling in terrorand wildly prancing around.

  Ten of his companions followed him. All ten met the same fate.

  Conseil was in ecstasy. Carried away by his violent instincts,Ned Land leaped up the companionway. But as soon as his handsseized the railing, he was thrown backward in his turn.

  "Damnation!" he exclaimed. "I've been struck by a lightning bolt!"

  These words explained everything to me. It wasn't just a railingthat led to the platform, it was a metal cable fully charged withthe ship's electricity. Anyone who touched it got a fearsome shock--and such a shock would have been fatal if Captain Nemo had thrownthe full current from his equipment into this conducting cable!It could honestly be said that he had stretched between himself and hisassailants a network of electricity no one could clear with impunity.

  Meanwhile, crazed with terror, the unhinged Papuans beat a retreat.As for us, half laughing, we massaged and comforted poor Ned Land,who was swearing like one possessed.

  But just then, lifted off by the tide's final undulations, the Nautilusleft its coral bed at exactly that fortieth minute pinpointedby the captain. Its propeller churned the waves with lazy majesty.Gathering speed little by little, the ship navigated on the surfaceof the ocean, and safe and sound, it left behind the dangerousnarrows of the Torres Strait.


  "Aegri Somnia"*

  *Latin: "troubled dreams." Ed.

  THE FOLLOWING DAY, January 10, the Nautilus resumed its travelsin midwater but at a remarkable speed that I estimated to be atleast thirty-five miles per hour. The propeller was going so fastI could neither follow nor count its revolutions.

  I thought about how this marvelous electric force not onlygave motion, heat, and light to the Nautilus but even protected itagainst outside attack, transforming it into a sacred ark no profanehand could touch without being blasted; my wonderment was boundless,and it went from the submersible itself to the engineer whohad created it.

  We were traveling due west and on January 11 we doubled Cape Wessel,located in longitude 135 degrees and latitude 10 degrees north,the western tip of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Reefs were stillnumerous but more widely scattered and were fixed on the chartwith the greatest accuracy. The Nautilus easily avoidedthe Money breakers to port and the Victoria reefs to starboard,positioned at longitude 130 degrees on the tenth parallel,which we went along rigorously.

  On January 13, arriving in the Timor Sea, Captain Nemo raisedthe island of that name at longitude 122 degrees. 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 humanbeing can lay claim. Accordingly, their scaly ancestors infestthe island's rivers and are the subjects of special veneration.They are sheltered, nurtured, flattered, pampered, and offereda ritual diet of nubile maidens; and woe to the foreigner who liftsa 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 chiefofficer determined his position. I also caught only a glimpseof little Roti Island, part of this same group, whose women have awell-established reputation for beauty in the Malaysian marketplace.

  After our position fix, the Nautilus's latitude bearings were modulatedto the southwest. Our prow pointed to the Indian Ocean. Where wouldCaptain Nemo's fancies take us? Would he head up to the shoresof Asia? Would he pull nearer to the beaches of Europe? Unlikely choicesfor a man who avoided populated areas! So would he go down south?Would he double the Cape of Good Hope, then Cape Horn, and pushon to the Antarctic pole? Finally, would he return to the seasof 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 Nautilusslowed down in an odd manner, and very unpredictable in its ways,it sometimes swam in the midst of the waters, sometimes driftedon their surface.

  During this phase of our voyage, Captain Nemo conducted interestingexperiments on the different temperatures in various strata of the sea.Under ordinary conditions, such readings are obtained usingsome pretty complicated instruments whose findings are dubiousto say the least, whether they're thermometric sounding lines,whose glass often shatters under the water's pressure, or those devicesbased 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 himselfinto its depths, and when he placed his thermometer in contactwith the various layers of liquid, he found the sought-for degreeimmediately and with certainty.

  And so, by loading up its ballast tanks, or by sinking obliquelywith its slanting fins, the Nautilus successively reacheddepths 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 degreescentigrade 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 wonderedwhy he took these observations. Were they for the benefitof his fellow man? It was unlikely, because sooner or laterhis 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 differentdata he had obtained on the relative densities of the waterin our globe's chief seas. From this news I derived some personalenlightenment having nothing to do with science.

  It happened the morning of January 15. The captain, with whom Iwas strolling on the platform, asked me if I knew ho
w salt waterdiffers in density from sea to sea. I said no, adding that therewas a lack of rigorous scientific observations on this subject.

  "I've taken such observations," he told me, "and I can vouchfor 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 planetsaccompanying our globe around the sun, and we'll never becomefamiliar with the work of scientists on Saturn or Jupiter. But sincefate has linked our two lives, I can reveal the results of myobservations 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 representthe density of fresh water by 1.000, then I find 1.028 forthe 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 watersof the Adriatic."

  Assuredly, the Nautilus didn't avoid the heavily traveled seasof Europe, and from this insight I concluded that the ship wouldtake 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 equaledonly by his graciousness toward me. Then I saw no more of himfor some days and again lived on board in seclusion.

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