Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

I.–I Join a Strange Expedition_

In the year 1866 the whole seafaring world of Europe and America was
greatly disturbed by an ocean mystery which baffled the wits of
scientists and sailors alike. Several vessels, in widely different
regions of the seas, had met a long and rapidly moving object, much
larger than a whale, and capable of almost incredible speed. It had also
been seen at night, and was then phosphorescent, moving under the water
in a glow of light.

There was no doubt whatever as to the reality of this unknown terror of
the deep, for several vessels had been struck by it, and particularly
the Cunard steamer Scotia, homeward bound for Liverpool. It had pierced
a large triangular hole through the steel plates of the Scotia’s hull,
and would certainly have sunk the vessel had it not been divided into
seven water-tight compartments, any one of which could stand injury
without danger to the vessel. It was three hundred miles off Cape Clear
that the Scotia encountered this mysterious monster. Arriving after some
days’ delay at Liverpool, the vessel was put into dock, when the result
of the blow from the unknown was thoroughly investigated. So many
vessels having recently been lost from unknown causes, the narrow escape
of the Scotia directed fresh attention to this ocean mystery, and both
in Europe and America there was a strong public agitation for an
expedition to be sent out, prepared to do battle with, and if possible
destroy, this narwhal of monstrous growth, as many scientists believed
it to be.

Now I, Pierre Arronax, assistant professor in the Paris Museum of
Natural History, was at this time in America, where I had been engaged
on a scientific expedition into the disagreeable region of Nebraska. I
had arrived at New York in company of my faithful attendant, Conseil,
and was devoting my attention to classifying the numerous specimens I
had gathered for the Paris Museum. As I had already some reputation in
the scientific world from my book on “The Mysteries of the Great
Submarine Grounds,” a number of people did me the honour of consulting
me concerning the one subject then exercising the minds of all
interested in ocean travel.

An expedition was also being fitted out by the United States government,
the fastest frigate of the navy, the Abraham Lincoln, under command of
Captain Farragut, being in active preparation, with the object of
hunting out this wandering monster which had last been seen three weeks
before by a San Francisco steamer in the North Pacific Ocean. I was
invited to join this expedition as a representative of France, and
immediately decided to do so. The faithful Conseil said he would go with
me wherever I went, and thus it came about that my sturdy Flemish
companion, who had accompanied me on scientific expeditions for ten
years was with me again on the eventful cruise which began when we
sailed from Brooklyn for the Pacific and the unknown.

The crew of the frigate and the various scientists on board were all
eagerness to meet the great cetacean, or sea-unicorn. My own opinion was
that it would be found to be a narwhal of monstrous growth, for these
creatures are armed with a kind of ivory sword, or tusk, as hard as
steel, and sometimes nearly seven feet long by fifteen inches in
diameter at the base. Supposing one to exist ten times as large as any
that had ever been captured, with its tusk proportionately powerful, it
was conceivable that such a gigantic creature, moving at a great rate,
could do all the damage that had been reported.

There was among our crew one Ned Land, a gigantic Canadian of forty, who
was considered to be the prince of harpooners. Many a whale had received
its deathblow from him, and he was eager to flesh his harpoon in this
redoubtable cetacean which had terrified the marine world.

Week after week passed without any sign that our quest would be
successful. Indeed, after nearly four months had gone, and we had
explored the whole of the Japanese and Chinese coasts, the captain
reached the point of deciding to return, when one night the voice of Ned
Land was heard calling:

“Look out there! The thing we are looking for on our weather-beam!”

At this cry the entire crew rushed towards the harpooner–captain,
officers, masters, sailors, and cabin-boys; even the engineers left
their engines, and the stokers their furnaces. The frigate was now
moving only by her own momentum, for the engines had been stopped.

My heart beat violently. I was sure the harpooner’s eyes had not
deceived him. Soon we could all see, about two cables’ length away, a
strange and luminous object, lying some fathoms below the surface, just
as described in many of the reports. One of the officers suggested that
it was merely an enormous mass of phosphorous particles, but I replied
with conviction that the light was electric. And even as I spoke the
strange thing began to move towards us!

The captain immediately reversed engines and put on full speed, but the
luminous monster gained on us and played round the frigate with
frightful rapidity. Its light would go out suddenly and reappear again
on the other side of the vessel. It was clearly too great a risk to
attack the thing in the dark, and by midnight it disappeared, dying out
like a huge glow-worm. It appeared again, about five miles to the
windward, at two in the morning, coming up to the surface as if to
breathe, and it seemed as though the air rushed into its huge lungs like
steam in the vast cylinders of a 2,000 horse-power engine.

“Hum!” said I. “A whale with the strength of a cavalry regiment would be
a pretty whale!”

_II.–The Attack and After_

Everything was in readiness to attack with the coming of the dawn, and
Ned Land was calmly sharpening his great harpoon, but by six in the
morning the thing had again disappeared, and a thick sea-fog made it
impossible to observe its further movements. At eight o’clock, however,
the mist had begun to clear, and then, as suddenly as on the night
before, Ned Land’s voice was heard calling: “The thing on the
port-quarter!”

There it was, surely enough, a mile and a half away, now a large black
body showing above the waves, and leaving a track of dazzling white as
its great tail beat the water into foam.

Moving rapidly, it approached within twenty feet of the frigate. Ned
stood ready at the bow to hurl his harpoon, and the monster was now
shining again with that strange light which dazzled our eyes. All at
once he threw the harpoon. It struck on a hard body.

Instantly the light went out and two enormous water-spouts fell on our
deck. A frightful shock followed, and the next moment I found myself
struggling in the sea. Though a good swimmer, I kept afloat with some
difficulty, and great was my joy when I heard the voice of the faithful
Conseil, who had jumped in after me. Much stronger than myself, he
helped me to remove some of my clothes, and thus we kept afloat until I
fainted.

When I regained consciousness, I found myself on the top of what seemed
to be a floating island, and there was Ned Land as well as Conseil. We
were on the back of the mysterious monster, and it was made of metal!
Presently it began to move, and we were afraid it might go below the
surface.

Indeed, it seemed to be on the point of submerging, when Land hammered
loudly on the metal plates, and in a moment an opening was made and the
three of us were drawn inside by eight masked men. A door banged on us,
and for half an hour we lay in utter darkness. Then a brilliant electric
light flooded the cabin, a room of about twenty feet by ten, and two men
entered. One was tall, pale, and dark-eyed, but magnificently
proportioned.

Though we spoke to them in French, German, English, and Latin, they did
not seem to understand, while their own speech was unintelligible to us.
But they gave us clothes and food. After eating the food, which was
strange but delicious, we all lay down and slept the sleep of sheer
exhaustion.

Next day the tall man, whom I afterwards came to know as Captain Nemo,
master of his marvellous submarine boat, came to me, and, speaking in
French, said:

“I have been considering your case, and did not choose to speak till I
had weighed it well. You have pursued me to destroy me. I have done with
society for reasons of my own. I have decided. I give you choice of life
or death. If you grant me a passive obedience, and submit to my
consigning you to your cabin for some hours or days, as occasion calls,
you are safe. You, Monsieur Arronax, have least cause to complain, for
you have written on the life of the sea–I have your book in my library
here–and will benefit most when I show you its marvels. I love it. It
does not belong to despots.”

Clearly we could do nothing but submit, and afterwards Captain Nemo
showed me his wondrous craft.

_III.–Our Life on the Nautilus_

It was indeed a thing of marvels; for, besides the dining-room, it
contained a large library of twelve thousand volumes, a drawing-room
measuring thirty feet by eighteen, and fifteen high. The walls of this
apartment were adorned with masterpieces of the great painters, and
beautiful marbles and bronzes. A large piano-organ stood in one corner,
and there were glass cases containing the rarest marine curiosities
which a naturalist could wish to see. A collection of enormous pearls in
a cabinet must have been worth millions, and Captain Nemo told me he had
rifled every sea to find them.

The room assigned to me was fitted up with every luxury, yet the
captain’s own apartment was as simply furnished as a monastic cell, but
in it were contained all the ingenious instruments that controlled the
movements of the Nautilus, as his submarine was named. The electricity
was manufactured by a process of extracting chloride of sodium from the
sea-water, but the fresh air necessary for the life of the crew could
only be obtained by rising to the surface. The engine-room was
sixty-five feet long, and in it was the machinery for producing
electricity as well as that for applying the power to the propeller.

The Nautilus, Captain Nemo explained, was capable of a speed of fifty
miles an hour, and could be made to sink or rise with precision by
flooding or emptying a reservoir. In a box, raised somewhat above the
hull and fitted with glass ten inches thick, the steersman had his
place, and a powerful electric reflector behind him illumined the sea
for half a mile in front.

The submarine also carried a small torpedo-like boat, fitted in a groove
along the top, so that it could be entered from the Nautilus by opening
a panel, and, after that was closed, the boat could be detached from the
submarine, and would then bob upwards to the surface like a cork. The
importance of this and its bearing on my story will appear in due time.

It was on a desert island that Captain Nemo had carried out the building
of the Nautilus, and from many different places he had secured the
various parts of the hull and machinery, in order to maintain secrecy.

Deeply interested as I was in every detail of this extraordinary vessel,
and excited beyond measure at the wonders which awaited me in exploring
the world beneath the waves, I had still the feeling of a prisoner who
dared scarcely hope that liberty might some day be obtained. But when
the metal plates which covered the windows of the saloon were rolled
back as we sailed under the water, and on each hand I could see a
thronging army of many-coloured aquatic creatures swimming around us,
attracted by our light, I was in an ecstasy of wonder and delight.

Then days would pass without Captain Nemo putting in an appearance, and
none of the crew were ever to be seen. But the Nautilus kept on its
journey, which, I learned, took us to the Torres Strait, the Papuan
coast, through the Red Sea, through a subterranean strait, under the
Isthmus of Suez, to the island of Santorin, the Cretan Archipelago, to
the South Pole, on whose sterile wastes Captain Nemo reared his black
flag with a white “N” upon it, and through the Gulf Stream.

Of the wonders of the deep, those amazing and beautiful specimens of
unknown life that passed before my vision on this strange journey, never
before seen by the eye of any naturalist, I cannot here enter into
particulars. But it must not be supposed, prisoners though we were, that
we never emerged from the interior of the Nautilus.

One of my first surprises, indeed, was to be invited by Captain Nemo to
accompany him on a hunting expedition in the marine forest that grew
about the base of the little island of Crespo, in the North Pacific
Ocean. We were told to make a hearty breakfast, as the jaunt would be a
long one. This we did, for we had soon become accustomed to the strange
food, every item of which was produced by the sea.

For our submarine excursion we were furnished with diving dresses of
seamless india-rubber, fitted on the shoulders with a reservoir of
stored air, its tubes opening into the great copper helmet. We even had
powerful air-guns and electric bullets, which proved weapons of deadly
precision. When inside our diving dresses, we could not move our feet on
account of the enormous leaden soles, so that we had to be pushed into a
compartment at the bottom of the vessel, and the iron doors secured
behind us. Water was then pumped in, and we could feel it rising around
us, until the compartment was full, when an outer door opened and we
stepped on to the floor of the sea.

For some considerable distance we walked along sands of the most perfect
smoothness, and then had to make our way over slimy rocks and
treacherous masses of seaweed, before we reached the fairy-like forest
under the sea, where all the branches of the marvellous growths ascended
perpendicularly.

It was indeed a rare experience for me, who had written “The Mysteries
of the Great Submarine Grounds,” thus to see, at first hand, the life
which I had only been able to speculate on before. We captured many rare
specimens, and shot a fine sea-otter, the only known quadruped that
inhabits the rocky depths of the Pacific. It was five feet long, and its
skin was worth a hundred pounds.