WE HAD FINALLY arrived on the outskirts of this forest, surely one of th_inest in Captain Nemo's immense domains. He regarded it as his own and ha_aid the same claim to it that, in the first days of the world, the first me_ad to their forests on land. Besides, who else could dispute his ownership o_his underwater property? What other, bolder pioneer would come, ax in hand,
to clear away its dark underbrush?
This forest was made up of big treelike plants, and when we entered beneat_heir huge arches, my eyes were instantly struck by the unique arrangement o_heir branches—an arrangement that I had never before encountered.
None of the weeds carpeting the seafloor, none of the branches bristling fro_he shrubbery, crept, or leaned, or stretched on a horizontal plane. They al_ose right up toward the surface of the ocean. Every filament or ribbon, n_atter how thin, stood ramrod straight. Fucus plants and creepers were growin_n stiff perpendicular lines, governed by the density of the element tha_enerated them. After I parted them with my hands, these otherwise motionles_lants would shoot right back to their original positions. It was the regim_f verticality.
I soon grew accustomed to this bizarre arrangement, likewise to th_omparative darkness surrounding us. The seafloor in this forest was strew_ith sharp chunks of stone that were hard to avoid. Here the range o_nderwater flora seemed pretty comprehensive to me, as well as more abundan_han it might have been in the arctic or tropical zones, where such exhibit_re less common. But for a few minutes I kept accidentally confusing the tw_ingdoms, mistaking zoophytes for water plants, animals for vegetables. An_ho hasn't made the same blunder? Flora and fauna are so closely associated i_he underwater world!
I observed that all these exhibits from the vegetable kingdom were attached t_he seafloor by only the most makeshift methods. They had no roots and didn'_are which solid objects secured them, sand, shells, husks, or pebbles; the_idn't ask their hosts for sustenance, just a point of purchase. These plant_re entirely self–propagating, and the principle of their existence lies i_he water that sustains and nourishes them. In place of leaves, most of the_prouted blades of unpredictable shape, which were confined to a narrow gamu_f colors consisting only of pink, crimson, green, olive, tan, and brown.
There I saw again, but not yet pressed and dried like the Nautilus'_pecimens, some peacock's tails spread open like fans to stir up a coolin_reeze, scarlet rosetangle, sea tangle stretching out their young and edibl_hoots, twisting strings of kelp from the genus Nereocystis that bloomed to _eight of fifteen meters, bouquets of mermaid's cups whose stems grew wider a_he top, and a number of other open–sea plants, all without flowers. "It's a_dd anomaly in this bizarre element!" as one witty naturalist puts it. "Th_nimal kingdom blossoms, and the vegetable kingdom doesn't!"
These various types of shrubbery were as big as trees in the temperate zones;
in the damp shade between them, there were clustered actual bushes of movin_lowers, hedges of zoophytes in which there grew stony coral striped wit_wisting furrows, yellowish sea anemone from the genus Caryophylia wit_ranslucent tentacles, plus anemone with grassy tufts from the genu_oantharia; and to complete the illusion, minnows flitted from branch t_ranch like a swarm of hummingbirds, while there rose underfoot, like a cove_f snipe, yellow fish from the genus Lepisocanthus with bristling jaws an_harp scales, flying gurnards, and pinecone fish.
Near one o'clock, Captain Nemo gave the signal to halt. Speaking for myself, _as glad to oblige, and we stretched out beneath an arbor of winged kelp,
whose long thin tendrils stood up like arrows.
This short break was a delight. It lacked only the charm of conversation. Bu_t was impossible to speak, impossible to reply. I simply nudged my big coppe_eadpiece against Conseil's headpiece. I saw a happy gleam in the gallan_ad's eyes, and to communicate his pleasure, he jiggled around inside hi_arapace in the world's silliest way.
After four hours of strolling, I was quite astonished not to feel any intens_unger. What kept my stomach in such a good mood I'm unable to say. But, i_xchange, I experienced that irresistible desire for sleep that comes ove_very diver. Accordingly, my eyes soon closed behind their heavy glass window_nd I fell into an uncontrollable doze, which until then I had been able t_ight off only through the movements of our walking. Captain Nemo and hi_uscular companion were already stretched out in this clear crystal, settin_s a fine naptime example.
How long I was sunk in this torpor I cannot estimate; but when I awoke, i_eemed as if the sun were settling toward the horizon. Captain Nemo wa_lready up, and I had started to stretch my limbs, when an unexpecte_pparition brought me sharply to my feet.
A few paces away, a monstrous, meter–high sea spider was staring at me wit_eady eyes, poised to spring at me. Although my diving suit was heavy enoug_o protect me from this animal's bites, I couldn't keep back a shudder o_orror. Just then Conseil woke up, together with the Nautilus's sailor.
Captain Nemo alerted his companion to this hideous crustacean, which a swin_f the rifle butt quickly brought down, and I watched the monster's horribl_egs writhing in dreadful convulsions.
This encounter reminded me that other, more daunting animals must be lurkin_n these dark reaches, and my diving suit might not be adequate protectio_gainst their attacks. Such thoughts hadn't previously crossed my mind, and _as determined to keep on my guard. Meanwhile I had assumed this rest perio_ould be the turning point in our stroll, but I was mistaken; and instead o_eading back to the Nautilus, Captain Nemo continued his daring excursion.
The seafloor kept sinking, and its significantly steeper slope took us t_reater depths. It must have been nearly three o'clock when we reached _arrow valley gouged between high, vertical walls and located 150 meters down.
Thanks to the perfection of our equipment, we had thus gone ninety meter_elow the limit that nature had, until then, set on man's underwate_xcursions.
I say 150 meters, although I had no instruments for estimating this distance.
But I knew that the sun's rays, even in the clearest seas, could reach n_eeper. So at precisely this point the darkness became profound. Not a singl_bject was visible past ten paces. Consequently, I had begun to grope my wa_hen suddenly I saw the glow of an intense white light. Captain Nemo had jus_ctivated his electric device. His companion did likewise. Conseil and _ollowed suit. By turning a switch, I established contact between th_nduction coil and the glass spiral, and the sea, lit up by our four lanterns,
was illuminated for a radius of twenty–five meters.
Captain Nemo continued to plummet into the dark depths of this forest, whos_hrubbery grew ever more sparse. I observed that vegetable life wa_isappearing more quickly than animal life. The open–sea plants had alread_eft behind the increasingly arid seafloor, where a prodigious number o_nimals were still swarming: zoophytes, articulates, mollusks, and fish.
While we were walking, I thought the lights of our Ruhmkorff devices woul_utomatically attract some inhabitants of these dark strata. But if they di_pproach us, at least they kept at a distance regrettable from the hunter'_tandpoint. Several times I saw Captain Nemo stop and take aim with his rifle;
then, after sighting down its barrel for a few seconds, he would straighten u_nd resume his walk.
Finally, at around four o'clock, this marvelous excursion came to an end. _all of superb rocks stood before us, imposing in its sheer mass: a pile o_igantic stone blocks, an enormous granite cliffside pitted with dark cave_ut not offering a single gradient we could climb up. This was th_nderpinning of Crespo Island. This was land.
The captain stopped suddenly. A gesture from him brought us to a halt, an_owever much I wanted to clear this wall, I had to stop. Here ended th_omains of Captain Nemo. He had no desire to pass beyond them. Farther on la_ part of the globe he would no longer tread underfoot.
Our return journey began. Captain Nemo resumed the lead in our little band,
always heading forward without hesitation. I noted that we didn't follow th_ame path in returning to the Nautilus. This new route, very steep and henc_ery arduous, quickly took us close to the surface of the sea. But this retur_o the upper strata wasn't so sudden that decompression took place to_uickly, which could have led to serious organic disorders and given us thos_nternal injuries so fatal to divers. With great promptness, the ligh_eappeared and grew stronger; and the refraction of the sun, already low o_he horizon, again ringed the edges of various objects with the entire colo_pectrum.
At a depth of ten meters, we walked amid a swarm of small fish from ever_pecies, more numerous than birds in the air, more agile too; but no aquati_ame worthy of a gunshot had yet been offered to our eyes.
Just then I saw the captain's weapon spring to his shoulder and track a movin_bject through the bushes. A shot went off, I heard a faint hissing, and a_nimal dropped a few paces away, literally struck by lightning.
It was a magnificent sea otter from the genus Enhydra, the only exclusivel_arine quadruped. One and a half meters long, this otter had to be worth _ood high price. Its coat, chestnut brown above and silver below, would hav_ade one of those wonderful fur pieces so much in demand in the Russian an_hinese markets; the fineness and luster of its pelt guaranteed that it woul_o for at least ?2,000. I was full of wonderment at this unusual mammal, wit_ts circular head adorned by short ears, its round eyes, its white whisker_ike those on a cat, its webbed and clawed feet, its bushy tail. Hunted an_rapped by fishermen, this valuable carnivore has become extremely rare, an_t takes refuge chiefly in the northernmost parts of the Pacific, where in al_ikelihood its species will soon be facing extinction.
Captain Nemo's companion picked up the animal, loaded it on his shoulder, an_e took to the trail again.
For an hour plains of sand unrolled before our steps. Often the seafloor ros_o within two meters of the surface of the water. I could then see our image_learly mirrored on the underside of the waves, but reflected upside down:
above us there appeared an identical band that duplicated our every movemen_nd gesture; in short, a perfect likeness of the quartet near which it walked,
but with heads down and feet in the air.
Another unusual effect. Heavy clouds passed above us, forming and fadin_wiftly. But after thinking it over, I realized that these so–called cloud_ere caused simply by the changing densities of the long ground swells, and _ven spotted the foaming "white caps" that their breaking crests wer_roliferating over the surface of the water. Lastly, I couldn't help seein_he actual shadows of large birds passing over our heads, swiftly skimming th_urface of the sea.
On this occasion I witnessed one of the finest gunshots ever to thrill th_arrow of a hunter. A large bird with a wide wingspan, quite clearly visible,
approached and hovered over us. When it was just a few meters above the waves,
Captain Nemo's companion took aim and fired. The animal dropped, electrocuted,
and its descent brought it within reach of our adroit hunter, who promptl_ook possession of it. It was an albatross of the finest species, a wonderfu_pecimen of these open–sea fowl.
This incident did not interrupt our walk. For two hours we were sometimes le_ver plains of sand, sometimes over prairies of seaweed that were quit_rduous to cross. In all honesty, I was dead tired by the time I spotted _azy glow half a mile away, cutting through the darkness of the waters. It wa_he Nautilus's beacon. Within twenty minutes we would be on board, and there _ould breathe easy again—because my tank's current air supply seemed to b_uite low in oxygen. But I was reckoning without an encounter that slightl_elayed our arrival.
I was lagging behind some twenty paces when I saw Captain Nemo suddenly com_ack toward me. With his powerful hands he sent me buckling to the ground,
while his companion did the same to Conseil. At first I didn't know what t_ake of this sudden assault, but I was reassured to observe the captain lyin_otionless beside me.
I was stretched out on the seafloor directly beneath some bushes of algae,
when I raised my head and spied two enormous masses hurtling by, throwing of_hosphorescent glimmers.
My blood turned cold in my veins! I saw that we were under threat from _earsome pair of sharks. They were blue sharks, dreadful man–eaters wit_normous tails, dull, glassy stares, and phosphorescent matter oozing fro_oles around their snouts. They were like monstrous fireflies that coul_horoughly pulverize a man in their iron jaws! I don't know if Conseil wa_usy with their classification, but as for me, I looked at their silve_ellies, their fearsome mouths bristling with teeth, from a viewpoint les_han scientific—more as a victim than as a professor of natural history.
Luckily these voracious animals have poor eyesight. They went by withou_oticing us, grazing us with their brownish fins; and miraculously, we escape_ danger greater than encountering a tiger deep in the jungle.
Half an hour later, guided by its electric trail, we reached the Nautilus. Th_utside door had been left open, and Captain Nemo closed it after we reentere_he first cell. Then he pressed a button. I heard pumps operating within th_hip, I felt the water lowering around me, and in a few moments the cell wa_ompletely empty. The inside door opened, and we passed into the wardrobe.
There our diving suits were removed, not without difficulty; and utterl_xhausted, faint from lack of food and rest, I repaired to my stateroom, ful_f wonder at this startling excursion on the bottom of the sea.