At these words Ned Land stood up quickly. Nearly strangled, the stewar_taggered out at a signal from his superior; but such was the commander'_uthority aboard his vessel, not one gesture gave away the resentment tha_his man must have felt toward the Canadian. In silence we waited for th_utcome of this scene; Conseil, in spite of himself, seemed almost fascinated, I was stunned.
Arms crossed, leaning against a corner of the table, the commander studied u_ith great care. Was he reluctant to speak further? Did he regret those word_e had just pronounced in French? You would have thought so.
After a few moments of silence, which none of us would have dreamed o_nterrupting:
"Gentlemen," he said in a calm, penetrating voice, "I speak French, English, German, and Latin with equal fluency. Hence I could have answered you as earl_s our initial interview, but first I wanted to make your acquaintance an_hen think things over. Your four versions of the same narrative, perfectl_onsistent by and large, established your personal identities for me. I no_now that sheer chance has placed in my presence Professor Pierre Aronnax, specialist in natural history at the Paris Museum and entrusted with _cientific mission abroad, his manservant Conseil, and Ned Land, a harpoone_f Canadian origin aboard the Abraham Lincoln, a frigate in the national nav_f the United States of America."
I bowed in agreement. The commander hadn't put a question to me. So no answe_as called for. This man expressed himself with perfect ease and without _race of an accent. His phrasing was clear, his words well chosen, hi_acility in elocution remarkable. And yet, to me, he didn't have "the feel" o_ fellow countryman.
He went on with the conversation as follows:
"No doubt, sir, you've felt that I waited rather too long before paying yo_his second visit. After discovering your identities, I wanted to weig_arefully what policy to pursue toward you. I had great difficulty deciding.
Some extremely inconvenient circumstances have brought you into the presenc_f a man who has cut himself off from humanity. Your coming has disrupted m_hole existence."
"Unintentionally," I said.
"Unintentionally?" the stranger replied, raising his voice a little. "Was i_nintentionally that the Abraham Lincoln hunted me on every sea? Was i_nintentionally that you traveled aboard that frigate? Was it unintentionall_hat your shells bounced off my ship's hull? Was it unintentionally that Mr.
Ned Land hit me with his harpoon?"
I detected a controlled irritation in these words. But there was a perfectl_atural reply to these charges, and I made it.
"Sir," I said, "you're surely unaware of the discussions that have taken plac_n Europe and America with yourself as the subject. You don't realize tha_arious accidents, caused by collisions with your underwater machine, hav_roused public passions on those two continents. I'll spare you th_nnumerable hypotheses with which we've tried to explain this inexplicabl_henomenon, whose secret is yours alone. But please understand that th_braham Lincoln chased you over the Pacific high seas in the belief it wa_unting some powerful marine monster, which had to be purged from the ocean a_ll cost."
A half smile curled the commander's lips; then, in a calmer tone:
"Professor Aronnax," he replied, "do you dare claim that your frigate wouldn'_ave chased and cannonaded an underwater boat as readily as a monster?"
This question baffled me, since Commander Farragut would certainly have show_o such hesitation. He would have seen it as his sworn duty to destroy _ontrivance of this kind just as promptly as a gigantic narwhale.
"So you understand, sir," the stranger went on, "that I have a right to trea_ou as my enemy."
I kept quiet, with good reason. What was the use of debating such _roposition, when superior force can wipe out the best arguments?
"It took me a good while to decide," the commander went on. "Nothing oblige_e to grant you hospitality. If I were to part company with you, I'd have n_ersonal interest in ever seeing you again. I could put you back on th_latform of this ship that has served as your refuge. I could sink under th_ea, and I could forget you ever existed. Wouldn't that be my right?"
"Perhaps it would be the right of a savage," I replied. "But not that of _ivilized man."
"Professor," the commander replied swiftly, "I'm not what you term a civilize_an! I've severed all ties with society, for reasons that I alone have th_ight to appreciate. Therefore I obey none of its regulations, and I insis_hat you never invoke them in front of me!"
This was plain speaking. A flash of anger and scorn lit up the stranger'_yes, and I glimpsed a fearsome past in this man's life. Not only had h_laced himself beyond human laws, he had rendered himself independent, out o_ll reach, free in the strictest sense of the word! For who would dare chas_im to the depths of the sea when he thwarted all attacks on the surface? Wha_hip could withstand a collision with his underwater Monitor? What armo_late, no matter how heavy, could bear the thrusts of his spur? No man amon_en could call him to account for his actions. God, if he believed in Him, hi_onscience if he had one—these were the only judges to whom he was answerable.
These thoughts swiftly crossed my mind while this strange individual fel_ilent, like someone completely self–absorbed. I regarded him with a mixtur_f fear and fascination, in the same way, no doubt, that Œdipus regarded th_phinx.
After a fairly long silence, the commander went on with our conversation.
"So I had difficulty deciding," he said. "But I concluded that my persona_nterests could be reconciled with that natural compassion to which ever_uman being has a right. Since fate has brought you here, you'll stay aboar_y vessel. You'll be free here, and in exchange for that freedom, moreove_otally related to it, I'll lay on you just one condition. Your word tha_ou'll submit to it will be sufficient."
"Go on, sir," I replied. "I assume this condition is one an honest man ca_ccept?"
"Yes, sir. Just this. It's possible that certain unforeseen events may forc_e to confine you to your cabins for some hours, or even for some days as th_ase may be. Since I prefer never to use violence, I expect from you in such _ase, even more than in any other, your unquestioning obedience. By acting i_his way, I shield you from complicity, I absolve you of all responsibility, since I myself make it impossible for you to see what you aren't meant to see.
Do you accept this condition?"
So things happened on board that were quite odd to say the least, things neve_o be seen by people not placing themselves beyond society's laws! Among al_he surprises the future had in store for me, this would not be the mildest.
"We accept," I replied. "Only, I'll ask your permission, sir, to address _uestion to you, just one."
"Go ahead, sir."
"You said we'd be free aboard your vessel?"
"Then I would ask what you mean by this freedom."
"Why, the freedom to come, go, see, and even closely observe everythin_appening here—except under certain rare circumstances—in short, the freedo_e ourselves enjoy, my companions and I."
It was obvious that we did not understand each other.
"Pardon me, sir," I went on, "but that's merely the freedom that ever_risoner has, the freedom to pace his cell! That's not enough for us."
"Nevertheless, it will have to do!"
"What! We must give up seeing our homeland, friends, and relatives eve_gain?"
"Yes, sir. But giving up that intolerable earthly yoke that some men cal_reedom is perhaps less painful than you think!"
"By thunder!" Ned Land shouted. "I'll never promise I won't try getting out o_ere!"
"I didn't ask for such a promise, Mr. Land," the commander replied coldly.
"Sir," I replied, flaring up in spite of myself, "you're taking unfai_dvantage of us! This is sheer cruelty!"
"No, sir, it's an act of mercy! You're my prisoners of war! I've cared for yo_hen, with a single word, I could plunge you back into the ocean depths! Yo_ttacked me! You've just stumbled on a secret no living man must probe, th_ecret of my entire existence! Do you think I'll send you back to a world tha_ust know nothing more of me? Never! By keeping you on board, it isn't yo_hom I care for, it's me!"
These words indicated that the commander pursued a policy impervious t_rguments.
"Then, sir," I went on, "you give us, quite simply, a choice between life an_eath?"
"My friends," I said, "to a question couched in these terms, our answer can b_aken for granted. But no solemn promises bind us to the commander of thi_essel."
"None, sir," the stranger replied.
Then, in a gentler voice, he went on:
"Now, allow me to finish what I have to tell you. I've heard of you, Professo_ronnax. You, if not your companions, won't perhaps complain too much abou_he stroke of fate that has brought us together. Among the books that make u_y favorite reading, you'll find the work you've published on the great ocea_epths. I've pored over it. You've taken your studies as far as terrestria_cience can go. But you don't know everything because you haven't see_verything. Let me tell you, professor, you won't regret the time you spen_board my vessel. You're going to voyage through a land of wonders. Stunne_mazement will probably be your habitual state of mind. It will be a lon_hile before you tire of the sights constantly before your eyes. I'm going t_ake another underwater tour of the world—perhaps my last, who knows?—and I'l_eview everything I've studied in the depths of these seas that I've crosse_o often, and you can be my fellow student. Starting this very day, you'l_nter a new element, you'll see what no human being has ever seen before—sinc_y men and I no longer count—and thanks to me, you're going to learn th_ltimate secrets of our planet."
I can't deny it; the commander's words had a tremendous effect on me. He ha_aught me on my weak side, and I momentarily forgot that not even this sublim_xperience was worth the loss of my freedom. Besides, I counted on the futur_o resolve this important question. So I was content to reply:
"Sir, even though you've cut yourself off from humanity, I can see that yo_aven't disowned all human feeling. We're castaways whom you've charitabl_aken aboard, we'll never forget that. Speaking for myself, I don't rule ou_hat the interests of science could override even the need for freedom, whic_romises me that, in exchange, our encounter will provide great rewards."
I thought the commander would offer me his hand, to seal our agreement. He di_othing of the sort. I regretted that.
"One last question," I said, just as this inexplicable being seemed ready t_ithdraw.
"Ask it, professor."
"By what name am I to call you?"
"Sir," the commander replied, "to you, I'm simply Captai_emo;[](footnotes.xml#footnote_7) to me, you and your companions are simpl_assengers on the Nautilus."
Captain Nemo called out. A steward appeared. The captain gave him his order_n that strange language I couldn't even identify. Then, turning to th_anadian and Conseil:
"A meal is waiting for you in your cabin," he told them. "Kindly follow thi_an."
"That's an offer I can't refuse!" the harpooner replied.
After being confined for over thirty hours, he and Conseil were finally out o_his cell.
"And now, Professor Aronnax, our own breakfast is ready. Allow me to lead th_ay."
"Yours to command, Captain."
I followed Captain Nemo, and as soon as I passed through the doorway, I wen_own a kind of electrically lit passageway that resembled a gangway on a ship.
After a stretch of some ten meters, a second door opened before me.
I then entered a dining room, decorated and furnished in austere good taste.
Inlaid with ebony trim, tall oaken sideboards stood at both ends of this room, and sparkling on their shelves were staggered rows of earthenware, porcelain, and glass of incalculable value. There silver–plated dinnerware gleamed unde_ays pouring from light fixtures in the ceiling, whose glare was softened an_empered by delicately painted designs.
In the center of this room stood a table, richly spread. Captain Nem_ndicated 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 contents were all supplied b_he sea, and some foods whose nature and derivation were unknown to me. The_ere good, I admit, but with a peculiar flavor to which I would soon gro_ccustomed. These various food items seemed to be rich in phosphorous, and _hought that they, too, must have been of marine origin.
Captain Nemo stared at me. I had asked him nothing, but he read my thoughts, and on his own he answered the questions I was itching to address him.
"Most of these dishes are new to you," he told me. "But you can consume the_ithout fear. They're healthy and nourishing. I renounced terrestrial food_ong ago, and I'm none the worse for it. My crew are strong and full o_nergy, 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 nets i_ur wake, and I pull them up ready to burst. Sometimes I go hunting right i_he midst of this element that has long seemed so far out of man's reach, an_ corner the game that dwells in my underwater forests. Like the flocks of ol_roteus, King Neptune's shepherd, my herds graze without fear on the ocean'_mmense prairies. There I own vast properties that I harvest myself, and whic_re forever 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 excellent fish for you_able; I understand less how you can chase aquatic game in your underwate_orests; but how a piece of red meat, no matter how small, can figure in you_enu, that I don't understand at all."
"Nor I, sir," Captain Nemo answered me. "I never touch the flesh of lan_nimals."
"Nevertheless, this … ," I went on, pointing to a dish where some slices o_oin were still left.
"What you believe to be red meat, professor, is nothing other than loin of se_urtle. Similarly, here are some dolphin livers you might mistake for stewe_ork. My chef is a skillful food processor who excels at pickling an_reserving these various exhibits from the ocean. Feel free to sample all o_hese foods. Here are some preserves of sea cucumber that a Malaysian woul_eclare to be unrivaled in the entire world, here's cream from milk furnishe_y the udders of cetaceans, and sugar from the huge fucus plants in the Nort_ea; and finally, allow me to offer you some marmalade of sea anemone, equa_o that from the tastiest fruits."
So I sampled away, more as a curiosity seeker than an epicure, while Captai_emo delighted me with his incredible anecdotes.
"But this sea, Professor Aronnax," he told me, "this prodigious, inexhaustibl_et nurse of a sea not only feeds me, she dresses me as well. That fabri_overing you was woven from the masses of filaments that anchor certai_eashells; as the ancients were wont to do, it was dyed with purple ink fro_he murex snail and shaded with violet tints that I extract from a marin_lug, the Mediterranean sea hare. The perfumes you'll find on the washstand i_our cabin were produced from the oozings of marine plants. Your mattress wa_ade from the ocean's softest eelgrass. Your quill pen will be whalebone, you_nk a juice secreted by cuttlefish or squid. Everything comes to me from th_ea, 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 covers seven–tenths o_he planet earth. Its breath is clean and healthy. It's an immense wildernes_here a man is never lonely, because he feels life astir on every side. Th_ea is simply the vehicle for a prodigious, unearthly mode of existence; it'_imply movement and love; it's living infinity, as one of your poets put it.
And in essence, professor, nature is here made manifest by all three of he_ingdoms, mineral, vegetable, and animal. The last of these is ampl_epresented by the four zoophyte groups, three classes of articulates, fiv_lasses of mollusks, and three vertebrate classes: mammals, reptiles, an_hose countless legions of fish, an infinite order of animals totaling mor_han 13,000 species, of which only one–tenth belong to fresh water. The sea i_ vast pool of nature. Our globe began with the sea, so to speak, and who ca_ay we won't end with it! Here lies supreme tranquility. The sea doesn'_elong to tyrants. On its surface they can still exercise their iniquitou_laims, battle each other, devour each other, haul every earthly horror. Bu_hirty feet below sea level, their dominion ceases, their influence fades, their power vanishes! Ah, sir, live! Live in the heart of the seas! Here alon_ies independence! Here I recognize no superiors! Here I'm free!"
Captain Nemo suddenly fell silent in the midst of this enthusiasti_utpouring. Had he let himself get carried away, past the bounds of hi_abitual reserve? Had he said too much? For a few moments he strolled up an_own, all aquiver. Then his nerves grew calmer, his facial features recovere_heir usual icy composure, and turning to me:
"Now, professor," he said, "if you'd like to inspect the Nautilus, I'm your_o command."