Vingt mille lieues sous.., p.9

Vingt mille lieues sous les mers. English, page 9

 

Vingt mille lieues sous les mers. English
 



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  "Sir, even though you've cut yourself off from humanity, I cansee that you haven't disowned all human feeling. We're castawayswhom you've charitably taken aboard, we'll never forget that.Speaking for myself, I don't rule out that the interests of sciencecould 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 seemedready 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 gavehim 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 werefinally 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 resembleda gangway on a ship. After a stretch of some ten meters, a seconddoor opened before me.

  I then entered a dining room, decorated and furnished in austeregood taste. Inlaid with ebony trim, tall oaken sideboards stood atboth ends of this room, and sparkling on their shelves were staggeredrows of earthenware, porcelain, and glass of incalculable value.There silver-plated dinnerware gleamed under rays pouring from lightfixtures in the ceiling, whose glare was softened and temperedby 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 contentswere all supplied by the sea, and some foods whose natureand 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 Ithought that they, too, must have been of marine origin.

  Captain Nemo stared at me. I had asked him nothing, but he readmy thoughts, and on his own he answered the questions I was itchingto address him.

  "Most of these dishes are new to you," he told me. "But you canconsume 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 netsin our wake, and I pull them up ready to burst. Sometimes I go huntingright in the midst of this element that has long seemed so far out ofman'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 areforever 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 excellentfish for your table; I understand less how you can chase aquaticgame in your underwater forests; but how a piece of red meat,no matter how small, can figure in your menu, that I don'tunderstand at all."

  "Nor I, sir," Captain Nemo answered me. "I never touch the fleshof land animals."

  "Nevertheless, this . . . ," I went on, pointing to a dish wheresome slices of loin were still left.

  "What you believe to be red meat, professor, is nothing other than loinof sea turtle. Similarly, here are some dolphin livers you might mistakefor stewed pork. My chef is a skillful food processor who excelsat pickling and preserving these various exhibits from the ocean.Feel free to sample all of these foods. Here are some preservesof sea cucumber that a Malaysian would declare to be unrivaledin the entire world, here's cream from milk furnished by the uddersof 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 dressesme as well. That fabric covering you was woven from the massesof filaments that anchor certain seashells; as the ancientswere wont to do, it was dyed with purple ink from the murex snailand shaded with violet tints that I extract from a marine slug,the Mediterranean sea hare. The perfumes you'll find on the washstandin 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 secretedby 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 coversseven-tenths of the planet earth. Its breath is clean and healthy.It's an immense wilderness where a man is never lonely, because hefeels life astir on every side. The sea is simply the vehiclefor a prodigious, unearthly mode of existence; it's simply movementand love; it's living infinity, as one of your poets put it.And in essence, professor, nature is here made manifestby 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 threevertebrate classes: mammals, reptiles, and those countlesslegions of fish, an infinite order of animals totaling more than13,000 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 thisenthusiastic 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 theirusual icy composure, and turning to me:

  "Now, professor," he said, "if you'd like to inspect the Nautilus, I'myours to command."

  CHAPTER 11

  The Nautilus

  CAPTAIN NEMO stood up. I followed him. Contrived at the rearof the dining room, a double door opened, and I entered a roomwhose dimensions equaled the one I had just left.

  It was a library. Tall, black-rosewood bookcases, inlaid with copperwork,held on their wide shelves a large number of uniformly bound books.These furnishings followed the contours of the room, their lowerparts leading to huge couches upholstered in maroon leatherand curved for maximum comfort. Light, movable reading stands,which could be pushed away or pulled near as desired,allowed books to be positioned on them for easy study.In the center stood a huge table covered with pamphlets,among which some newspapers, long out of date, were visible.Electric light flooded this whole harmonious totality, falling fromfour frosted half globes set in the scrollwork of the ceiling.I stared in genuine wonderment at this room so ingeniously laid out,and I couldn't believe my eyes.

&n
bsp; "Captain Nemo," I told my host, who had just stretched out ona couch, "this is a library that would do credit to more than onecontinental palace, and I truly marvel to think it can go with youinto the deepest seas."

  "Where could one find greater silence or solitude, professor?"Captain Nemo replied. "Did your study at the museum afford yousuch a perfect retreat?"

  "No, sir, and I might add that it's quite a humble one next to yours.You own 6,000 or 7,000 volumes here . . ."

  "12,000, Professor Aronnax. They're my sole remaining tieswith dry land. But I was done with the shore the day my Nautilussubmerged for the first time under the waters. That day I purchasedmy last volumes, my last pamphlets, my last newspapers, and eversince I've chosen to believe that humanity no longer thinks or writes.In any event, professor, these books are at your disposal, and youmay use them freely."

  I thanked Captain Nemo and approached the shelves of this library.Written in every language, books on science, ethics, and literaturewere there in abundance, but I didn't see a single work on economics--they seemed to be strictly banned on board. One odd detail:all these books were shelved indiscriminately without regardto the language in which they were written, and this jumble provedthat the Nautilus's captain could read fluently whatever volumeshe chanced to pick up.

  Among these books I noted masterpieces by the greats of ancientand modern times, in other words, all of humanity's finestachievements in history, poetry, fiction, and science,from Homer to Victor Hugo, from Xenophon to Michelet,from Rabelais to Madame George Sand. But science, in particular,represented the major investment of this library: books on mechanics,ballistics, hydrography, meteorology, geography, geology, etc., helda place there no less important than works on natural history,and I realized that they made up the captain's chief reading.There I saw the complete works of Humboldt, the complete Arago,as well as works by Foucault, Henri Sainte-Claire Deville, Chasles,Milne-Edwards, Quatrefages, John Tyndall, Faraday, Berthelot,Father Secchi, Petermann, Commander Maury, Louis Agassiz,etc., plus the transactions of France's Academy of Sciences,bulletins from the various geographical societies, etc., and ina prime location, those two volumes on the great ocean depthsthat had perhaps earned me this comparatively charitable welcomefrom Captain Nemo. Among the works of Joseph Bertrand, his bookentitled The Founders of Astronomy even gave me a definite date;and since I knew it had appeared in the course of 1865, I concludedthat the fitting out of the Nautilus hadn't taken place before then.Accordingly, three years ago at the most, Captain Nemo had begunhis underwater existence. Moreover, I hoped some books evenmore recent would permit me to pinpoint the date precisely;but I had plenty of time to look for them, and I didn't want to putoff any longer our stroll through the wonders of the Nautilus.

  "Sir," I told the captain, "thank you for placing this libraryat my disposal. There are scientific treasures here, and I'll takeadvantage of them."

  "This room isn't only a library," Captain Nemo said, "it's alsoa smoking room."

  "A smoking room?" I exclaimed. "Then one may smoke on board?"

  "Surely."

  "In that case, sir, I'm forced to believe that you've kept uprelations with Havana."

  "None whatever," the captain replied. "Try this cigar,Professor Aronnax, and even though it doesn't come from Havana,it will satisfy you if you're a connoisseur."

  I took the cigar offered me, whose shape recalled those from Cuba;but it seemed to be made of gold leaf. I lit it at a small braziersupported by an elegant bronze stand, and I inhaled my first whiffswith the relish of a smoker who hasn't had a puff in days.

  "It's excellent," I said, "but it's not from the tobacco plant."

  "Right," the captain replied, "this tobacco comes from neitherHavana nor the Orient. It's a kind of nicotine-rich seaweedthat the ocean supplies me, albeit sparingly. Do you still missyour Cubans, sir?"

  "Captain, I scorn them from this day forward."

  "Then smoke these cigars whenever you like, without debatingtheir origin. They bear no government seal of approval, but Iimagine they're none the worse for it."

  "On the contrary."

  Just then Captain Nemo opened a door facing the one by which I had enteredthe library, and I passed into an immense, splendidly lit lounge.

  It was a huge quadrilateral with canted corners, ten meters long,six wide, five high. A luminous ceiling, decorated withdelicate arabesques, distributed a soft, clear daylight over allthe wonders gathered in this museum. For a museum it truly was,in which clever hands had spared no expense to amass every naturaland artistic treasure, displaying them with the helter-skelterpicturesqueness that distinguishes a painter's studio.

  Some thirty pictures by the masters, uniformly framed and separatedby gleaming panoplies of arms, adorned walls on which were stretchedtapestries of austere design. There I saw canvases of the highest value,the likes of which I had marveled at in private European collectionsand art exhibitions. The various schools of the old masterswere represented by a Raphael Madonna, a Virgin by Leonardoda Vinci, a nymph by Correggio, a woman by Titian, an adorationof the Magi by Veronese, an assumption of the Virgin by Murillo,a Holbein portrait, a monk by Velazquez, a martyr by Ribera,a village fair by Rubens, two Flemish landscapes by Teniers,three little genre paintings by Gerard Dow, Metsu, and Paul Potter,two canvases by Gericault and Prud'hon, plus seascapes by Backhuysenand Vernet. Among the works of modern art were pictures signedby Delacroix, Ingres, Decamps, Troyon, Meissonier, Daubigny,etc., and some wonderful miniature statues in marble or bronze,modeled after antiquity's finest originals, stood on their pedestalsin the corners of this magnificent museum. As the Nautilus'scommander had predicted, my mind was already starting to fallinto that promised state of stunned amazement.

  "Professor," this strange man then said, "you must excusethe informality with which I receive you, and the disorder reigningin this lounge."

  "Sir," I replied, "without prying into who you are, might I ventureto identify you as an artist?"

  "A collector, sir, nothing more. Formerly I loved acquiringthese beautiful works created by the hand of man.I sought them greedily, ferreted them out tirelessly,and I've been able to gather some objects of great value.They're my last mementos of those shores that are now dead for me.In my eyes, your modern artists are already as old as the ancients.They've existed for 2,000 or 3,000 years, and I mix them up in my mind.The masters are ageless."

  "What about these composers?" I said, pointing to sheet musicby Weber, Rossini, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Meyerbeer, H?rold, Wagner,Auber, Gounod, Victor Mass?, and a number of others scatteredover a full size piano-organ, which occupied one of the wall panelsin this lounge.

  "These composers," Captain Nemo answered me, "are the contemporariesof Orpheus, because in the annals of the dead, all chronologicaldifferences fade; and I'm dead, professor, quite as dead as thosefriends of yours sleeping six feet under!"

  Captain Nemo fell silent and seemed lost in reverie. I regarded him withintense excitement, silently analyzing his strange facial expression.Leaning his elbow on the corner of a valuable mosaic table,he no longer saw me, he had forgotten my very presence.

  I didn't disturb his meditations but continued to pass in reviewthe curiosities that enriched this lounge.

  After the works of art, natural rarities predominated.They consisted chiefly of plants, shells, and other exhibits fromthe ocean that must have been Captain Nemo's own personal finds.In the middle of the lounge, a jet of water, electrically lit,fell back into a basin made from a single giant clam. The delicatelyfestooned rim of this shell, supplied by the biggest molluskin the class Acephala, measured about six meters in circumference;so it was even bigger than those fine giant clams given to King Fran?ois Iby the Republic of Venice, and which the Church of Saint-Sulpicein Paris has made into two gigantic holy-water fonts.

  Around this basin, inside elegant glass cases fastened withcopper bands, there were classified and labeled the most valuablemarine exhibits ever put before the eyes of
a naturalist.My professorial glee may easily be imagined.

  The zoophyte branch offered some very unusual specimens from itstwo groups, the polyps and the echinoderms. In the first group:organ-pipe coral, gorgonian coral arranged into fan shapes,soft sponges from Syria, isis coral from the Molucca Islands,sea-pen coral, wonderful coral of the genus Virgularia fromthe waters of Norway, various coral of the genus Umbellularia,alcyonarian coral, then a whole series of those madrepores that my mentorProfessor Milne-Edwards has so shrewdly classified into divisionsand among which I noted the wonderful genus Flabellina as well asthe genus Oculina from R?union Island, plus a "Neptune's chariot"from the Caribbean Sea--every superb variety of coral, and in short,every species of these unusual polyparies that congregateto form entire islands that will one day turn into continents.Among the echinoderms, notable for being covered with spines:starfish, feather stars, sea lilies, free-swimming crinoids,brittle stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, etc., representeda complete collection of the individuals in this group.

  An excitable conchologist would surely have fainted dead awaybefore other, more numerous glass cases in which were classifiedspecimens from the mollusk branch. There I saw a collectionof incalculable value that I haven't time to describe completely.Among these exhibits I'll mention, just for the record:an elegant royal hammer shell from the Indian Ocean, whose evenlyspaced white spots stood out sharply against a base of red and brown;an imperial spiny oyster, brightly colored, bristling with thorns,a specimen rare to European museums, whose value I estimated at20,000 francs; a common hammer shell from the seas near Queensland,very hard to come by; exotic cockles from Senegal, fragile whitebivalve shells that a single breath could pop like a soap bubble;several varieties of watering-pot shell from Java, a sort of limestonetube fringed with leafy folds and much fought over by collectors;a whole series of top-shell snails--greenish yellow ones fished upfrom American seas, others colored reddish brown that patronizethe waters off Queensland, the former coming from the Gulfof Mexico and notable for their overlapping shells, the lattersome sun-carrier shells found in the southernmost seas, finally andrarest of all, the magnificent spurred-star shell from New Zealand;then some wonderful peppery-furrow shells; several valuable speciesof cythera clams and venus clams; the trellis wentletrap snail fromTranquebar on India's eastern shore; a marbled turban snail gleamingwith mother-of-pearl; green parrot shells from the seas of China;the virtually unknown cone snail from the genus Coenodullus;every variety of cowry used as money in India and Africa;a "glory-of-the-seas," the most valuable shell in the East Indies;finally, common periwinkles, delphinula snails, turret snails,violet snails, European cowries, volute snails, olive shells,miter shells, helmet shells, murex snails, whelks, harp shells,spiky periwinkles, triton snails, horn shells, spindle shells,conch shells, spider conchs, limpets, glass snails, sea butterflies--every kind of delicate, fragile seashell that science has baptizedwith its most delightful names.

 

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