Vingt mille lieues sous.., p.41

Vingt mille lieues sous les mers. English, page 41

 

Vingt mille lieues sous les mers. English
 



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  The stopcocks of the ballast tanks were then opened wide, and 100cubic meters of water rushed in, increasing the Nautilus's weightby 100,000 kilograms.

  We waited, we listened, we forgot our sufferings, we hoped once more.We had staked our salvation on this one last gamble.

  Despite the buzzing in my head, I soon could hear vibrations under theNautilus's hull. We tilted. The ice cracked with an odd ripping sound,like paper tearing, and the Nautilus began settling downward.

  "We're going through!" Conseil muttered in my ear.

  I couldn't answer him. I clutched his hand. I squeezed itin an involuntary convulsion.

  All at once, carried away by its frightful excess load,the Nautilus sank into the waters like a cannonball, in other words,dropping as if in a vacuum!

  Our full electric power was then put on the pumps,which instantly began to expel water from the ballast tanks.After a few minutes we had checked our fall. The pressure gaugesoon indicated an ascending movement. Brought to full speed,the propeller made the sheet-iron hull tremble down to its rivets,and we sped northward.

  But how long would it take to navigate under the Ice Bank tothe open sea? Another day? I would be dead first!

  Half lying on a couch in the library, I was suffocating.My face was purple, my lips blue, my faculties in abeyance.I could no longer see or hear. I had lost all sense of time.My muscles had no power to contract.

  I'm unable to estimate the hours that passed in this way.But I was aware that my death throes had begun. I realized that Iwas about to die . . .

  Suddenly I regained consciousness. A few whiffs of air hadentered my lungs. Had we risen to the surface of the waves?Had we cleared the Ice Bank?

  No! Ned and Conseil, my two gallant friends, were sacrificing themselvesto save me. A few atoms of air were still left in the depthsof one Rouquayrol device. Instead of breathing it themselves,they had saved it for me, and while they were suffocating, they pouredlife into me drop by drop! I tried to push the device away.They held my hands, and for a few moments I could breathe luxuriously.

  My eyes flew toward the clock. It was eleven in the morning.It had to be March 28. The Nautilus was traveling at the frightfulspeed of forty miles per hour. It was writhing in the waters.

  Where was Captain Nemo? Had he perished? Had his companionsdied with him?

  Just then the pressure gauge indicated we were no more than twentyfeet from the surface. Separating us from the open air was a meretract of ice. Could we break through it?

  Perhaps! In any event the Nautilus was going to try. In fact,I could feel it assuming an oblique position, lowering its sternand raising its spur. The admission of additional water was enoughto shift its balance. Then, driven by its powerful propeller,it attacked this ice field from below like a fearsome battering ram.It split the barrier little by little, backing up, then puttingon full speed against the punctured tract of ice; and finally,carried away by its supreme momentum, it lunged through and ontothis frozen surface, crushing the ice beneath its weight.

  The hatches were opened--or torn off, if you prefer--and wavesof clean air were admitted into every part of the Nautilus.

  CHAPTER 17

  From Cape Horn to the Amazon

  HOW I GOT ONTO the platform I'm unable to say.Perhaps the Canadian transferred me there. But I could breathe,I could inhale the life-giving sea air. Next to me my twocompanions were getting tipsy on the fresh oxygen particles.Poor souls who have suffered from long starvation mustn't pounceheedlessly on the first food given them. We, on the other hand,didn't have to practice such moderation: we could suck the atomsfrom the air by the lungful, and it was the breeze, the breeze itself,that poured into us this luxurious intoxication!

  "Ahhh!" Conseil was putting in. "What fine oxygen! Let masterhave no fears about breathing. There's enough for everyone."

  As for Ned Land, he didn't say a word, but his wide-open jawswould have scared off a shark. And what powerful inhalations!The Canadian "drew" like a furnace going full blast.

  Our strength returned promptly, and when I looked around,I saw that we were alone on the platform. No crewmen.Not even Captain Nemo. Those strange seamen on the Nautiluswere content with the oxygen circulating inside. Not one of themhad come up to enjoy the open air.

  The first words I pronounced were words of appreciationand gratitude to my two companions. Ned and Conseil had keptme alive during the final hours of our long death throes.But no expression of thanks could repay them fully for such devotion.

  "Good lord, professor," Ned Land answered me, "don't mention it!What did we do that's so praiseworthy? Not a thing. It was aquestion of simple arithmetic. Your life is worth more than ours.So we had to save it."

  "No, Ned," I replied, "it isn't worth more. Nobody could be betterthan a kind and generous man like yourself!"

  "All right, all right!" the Canadian repeated in embarrassment.

  "And you, my gallant Conseil, you suffered a great deal."

  "Not too much, to be candid with master. I was lacking a fewthroatfuls of air, but I would have gotten by. Besides, when I sawmaster fainting, it left me without the slightest desire to breathe.It took my breath away, in a manner of . . ."

  Confounded by this lapse into banality, Conseil left his sentence hanging.

  "My friends," I replied, very moved, "we're bound to each other forever,and I'm deeply indebted to you--"

  "Which I'll take advantage of," the Canadian shot back.

  "Eh?" Conseil put in.

  "Yes," Ned Land went on. "You can repay your debt by coming with mewhen I leave this infernal Nautilus."

  "By the way," Conseil said, "are we going in a favorable direction?"

  "Yes," I replied, "because we're going in the direction of the sun,and here the sun is due north."

  "Sure," Ned Land went on, "but it remains to be seen whether we'llmake for the Atlantic or the Pacific, in other words, whether we'llend up in well-traveled or deserted seas."

  I had no reply to this, and I feared that Captain Nemo wouldn'ttake us homeward but rather into that huge ocean washing the shoresof both Asia and America. In this way he would complete his underwatertour of the world, going back to those seas where the Nautilusenjoyed the greatest freedom. But if we returned to the Pacific,far from every populated shore, what would happen to Ned Land's plans?

  We would soon settle this important point. The Nautilustraveled swiftly. Soon we had cleared the Antarctic Circleplus the promontory of Cape Horn. We were abreast of the tipof South America by March 31 at seven o'clock in the evening.

  By then all our past sufferings were forgotten. The memoryof that imprisonment under the ice faded from our minds.We had thoughts only of the future. Captain Nemo no longer appeared,neither in the lounge nor on the platform. The positions reportedeach day on the world map were put there by the chief officer,and they enabled me to determine the Nautilus's exact heading.Now then, that evening it became obvious, much to my satisfaction,that we were returning north by the Atlantic route.

  I shared the results of my observations with the Canadian and Conseil.

  "That's good news," the Canadian replied, "but where'sthe Nautilus going?"

  "I'm unable to say, Ned."

  "After the South Pole, does our captain want to tackle the North Pole,then go back to the Pacific by the notorious Northwest Passage?"

  "I wouldn't double dare him," Conseil replied.

  "Oh well," the Canadian said, "we'll give him the slip long before then."

  "In any event," Conseil added, "he's a superman, that Captain Nemo,and we'll never regret having known him."

  "Especially once we've left him," Ned Land shot back.

  The next day, April 1, when the Nautilus rose to the surface ofthe waves a few minutes before noon, we raised land to the west.It was Tierra del Fuego, the Land of Fire, a name given itby early navigators after they saw numerous curls of smoke risingfrom the natives' huts. This Land of Fire forms a huge c
lusterof islands over thirty leagues long and eighty leagues wide,extending between latitude 53 degrees and 56 degrees south,and between longitude 67 degrees 50' and 77 degrees 15' west.Its coastline looked flat, but high mountains rose in the distance.I even thought I glimpsed Mt. Sarmiento, whose elevation is 2,070meters above sea level: a pyramid-shaped block of shale with avery sharp summit, which, depending on whether it's clear or veiledin vapor, "predicts fair weather or foul," as Ned Land told me.

  "A first-class barometer, my friend."

  "Yes, sir, a natural barometer that didn't let me down when Inavigated the narrows of the Strait of Magellan."

  Just then its peak appeared before us, standing out distinctlyagainst the background of the skies. This forecast fair weather.And so it proved.

  Going back under the waters, the Nautilus drew near the coast,cruising along it for only a few miles. Through the loungewindows I could see long creepers and gigantic fucus plants,bulb-bearing seaweed of which the open sea at the pole had revealeda few specimens; with their smooth, viscous filaments, they measuredas much as 300 meters long; genuine cables more than an inch thickand very tough, they're often used as mooring lines for ships.Another weed, known by the name velp and boasting four-foot leaves,was crammed into the coral concretions and carpeted the ocean floor.It served as both nest and nourishment for myriads of crustaceansand mollusks, for crabs and cuttlefish. Here seals and otters couldindulge in a sumptuous meal, mixing meat from fish with vegetablesfrom the sea, like the English with their Irish stews.

  The Nautilus passed over these lush, luxuriant depths withtremendous speed. Near evening it approached the Falkland Islands,whose rugged summits I recognized the next day. The sea was ofmoderate depth. So not without good reason, I assumed that thesetwo islands, plus the many islets surrounding them, used to be partof the Magellan coastline. The Falkland Islands were probablydiscovered by the famous navigator John Davis, who gave them the nameDavis Southern Islands. Later Sir Richard Hawkins called themthe Maidenland, after the Blessed Virgin. Subsequently, at the beginningof the 18th century, they were named the Malouines by fishermenfrom Saint-Malo in Brittany, then finally dubbed the Falklandsby the English, to whom they belong today.

  In these waterways our nets brought up fine samples of algae,in particular certain fucus plants whose roots were laden withthe world's best mussels. Geese and duck alighted by the dozenson the platform and soon took their places in the ship's pantry.As for fish, I specifically observed some bony fish belongingto the goby genus, especially some gudgeon two decimeters long,sprinkled with whitish and yellow spots.

  I likewise marveled at the numerous medusas, including the most beautifulof their breed, the compass jellyfish, unique to the Falkland seas.Some of these jellyfish were shaped like very smooth,semispheric parasols with russet stripes and fringes of twelveneat festoons. Others looked like upside-down baskets fromwhich wide leaves and long red twigs were gracefully trailing.They swam with quiverings of their four leaflike arms,letting the opulent tresses of their tentacles dangle in the drift.I wanted to preserve a few specimens of these delicate zoophytes,but they were merely clouds, shadows, illusions, melting and evaporatingoutside their native element.

  When the last tips of the Falkland Islands had disappeared belowthe horizon, the Nautilus submerged to a depth between twentyand twenty-five meters and went along the South American coast.Captain Nemo didn't put in an appearance.

  We didn't leave these Patagonian waterways until April 3,sometimes cruising under the ocean, sometimes on its surface.The Nautilus passed the wide estuary formed by the mouth of the Riode la Plata, and on April 4 we lay abreast of Uruguay, albeit fiftymiles out. Keeping to its northerly heading, it followed the longwindings of South America. By then we had fared 16,000 leaguessince coming on board in the seas of Japan.

  Near eleven o'clock in the morning, we cut the Tropic of Capricornon the 37th meridian, passing well out from Cape Frio. Much toNed Land's displeasure, Captain Nemo had no liking for the neighborhoodof Brazil's populous shores, because he shot by with dizzying speed.Not even the swiftest fish or birds could keep up with us, and thenatural curiosities in these seas completely eluded our observation.

  This speed was maintained for several days, and on the eveningof April 9, we raised South America's easternmost tip,Cape S?o Roque. But then the Nautilus veered away again and wentlooking for the lowest depths of an underwater valley gouged betweenthis cape and Sierra Leone on the coast of Africa. Abreast ofthe West Indies, this valley forks into two arms, and tothe north it ends in an enormous depression 9,000 meters deep.From this locality to the Lesser Antilles, the ocean's geologicprofile features a steeply cut cliff six kilometers high, and abreastof the Cape Verde Islands, there's another wall just as imposing;together these two barricades confine the whole submerged continentof Atlantis. The floor of this immense valley is made picturesqueby mountains that furnish these underwater depths with scenic views.This description is based mostly on certain hand-drawn charts keptin the Nautilus's library, charts obviously rendered by Captain Nemohimself from his own personal observations.

  For two days we visited these deep and deserted waters by meansof our slanting fins. The Nautilus would do long, diagonal divesthat took us to every level. But on April 11 it rose suddenly,and the shore reappeared at the mouth of the Amazon River,a huge estuary whose outflow is so considerable, it desalts the seaover an area of several leagues.

  We cut the Equator. Twenty miles to the west lay Guiana, Frenchterritory where we could easily have taken refuge.But the wind was blowing a strong gust, and the furiousbillows would not allow us to face them in a mere skiff.No doubt Ned Land understood this because he said nothing to me.For my part, I made no allusion to his escape plans because I didn'twant to push him into an attempt that was certain to misfire.

  I was readily compensated for this delay by fascinating research.During those two days of April 11-12, the Nautilus didn't leavethe surface of the sea, and its trawl brought up a simply miraculouscatch of zoophytes, fish, and reptiles.

  Some zoophytes were dredged up by the chain of our trawl. Most werelovely sea anemone belonging to the family Actinidia, including amongother species, the Phyctalis protexta, native to this part of the ocean:a small cylindrical trunk adorned with vertical lines, mottled withred spots, and crowned by a wondrous blossoming of tentacles.As for mollusks, they consisted of exhibits I had already observed:turret snails, olive shells of the "tent olive" species with neatlyintersecting lines and russet spots standing out sharply againsta flesh-colored background, fanciful spider conchs that lookedlike petrified scorpions, transparent glass snails, argonauts,some highly edible cuttlefish, and certain species of squidthat the naturalists of antiquity classified with the flying fish,which are used chiefly as bait for catching cod.

  As for the fish in these waterways, I noted various species that Ihadn't yet had the opportunity to study. Among cartilaginous fish:some brook lamprey, a type of eel fifteen inches long, head greenish,fins violet, back bluish gray, belly a silvery brown strewn withbright spots, iris of the eye encircled in gold, unusual animalsthat the Amazon's current must have swept out to sea because theirnatural habitat is fresh water; sting rays, the snout pointed,the tail long, slender, and armed with an extensive jagged sting;small one-meter sharks with gray and whitish hides, their teetharranged in several backward-curving rows, fish commonly knownby the name carpet shark; batfish, a sort of reddish isoscelestriangle half a meter long, whose pectoral fins are attachedby fleshy extensions that make these fish look like bats,although an appendage made of horn, located near the nostrils,earns them the nickname of sea unicorns; lastly, a couple speciesof triggerfish, the cucuyo whose stippled flanks glitter with asparkling gold color, and the bright purple leatherjacket whosehues glisten like a pigeon's throat.

  I'll finish up this catalog, a little dry but quite accurate,with the series of bony fish I observed: eels belonging to the genusApteronotus whose snow-white snout is very blunt, the bo
dy painteda handsome black and armed with a very long, slender, fleshy whip;long sardines from the genus Odontognathus, like three-decimeter pike,shining with a bright silver glow; Guaranian mackerel furnished with twoanal fins; black-tinted rudderfish that you catch by using torches,fish measuring two meters and boasting white, firm, plump meat that,when fresh, tastes like eel, when dried, like smoked salmon;semired wrasse sporting scales only at the bases of their dorsaland anal fins; grunts on which gold and silver mingle their lusterwith that of ruby and topaz; yellow-tailed gilthead whose fleshis extremely dainty and whose phosphorescent properties givethem away in the midst of the waters; porgies tinted orange,with slender tongues; croakers with gold caudal fins; black surgeonfish;four-eyed fish from Surinam, etc.

  This "et cetera" won't keep me from mentioning one more fishthat Conseil, with good reason, will long remember.

  One of our nets had hauled up a type of very flat ray that weighedsome twenty kilograms; with its tail cut off, it would have formeda perfect disk. It was white underneath and reddish on top, with biground spots of deep blue encircled in black, its hide quite smoothand ending in a double-lobed fin. Laid out on the platform, it keptstruggling with convulsive movements, trying to turn over, making suchefforts that its final lunge was about to flip it into the sea.But Conseil, being very possessive of his fish, rushed at it,and before I could stop him, he seized it with both hands.

  Instantly there he was, thrown on his back, legs in the air,his body half paralyzed, and yelling:

  "Oh, sir, sir! Will you help me!"

 

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