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Chapter 17 An Underwater Forest

  • 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.