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Chapter 18 The Devilfish

  • FOR several days the Nautilus kept off from the American coast. Evidently i_id not wish to risk the tides of the Gulf of Mexico or of the sea of th_ntilles. April 16th, we sighted Martinique and Guadaloupe from a distance o_bout thirty miles. I saw their tall peaks for an instant. The Canadian, wh_ounted on carrying out his projects in the Gulf, by either landing or hailin_ne of the numerous boats that coast from one island to another, was quit_isheartened. Flight would have been quite practicable, if Ned Land had bee_ble to take possession of the boat without the Captain's knowledge. But i_he open sea it could not be thought of. The Canadian, Conseil, and I had _ong conversation on this subject. For six months we had been prisoners o_oard the Nautilus. We had travelled 17,000 leagues; and, as Ned Land said, there was no reason why it should come to an end. We could hope nothing fro_he Captain of the Nautilus, but only from ourselves. Besides, for some tim_ast he had become graver, more retired, less sociable. He seemed to shun me.
  • I met him rarely. Formerly he was pleased to explain the submarine marvels t_e; now he left me to my studies, and came no more to the saloon. What chang_ad come over him? For what cause? For my part, I did not wish to bury with m_y curious and novel studies. I had now the power to write the true book o_he sea; and this book, sooner or later, I wished to see daylight. The lan_earest us was the archipelago of the Bahamas. There rose high submarin_liffs covered with large weeds. It was about eleven o'clock when Ned Lan_rew my attention to a formidable pricking, like the sting of an ant, whic_as produced by means of large seaweeds.
  • "Well," I said, "these are proper caverns for poulps, and I should not b_stonished to see some of these monsters."
  • "What!" said Conseil; "cuttlefish, real cuttlefish of the cephalopod class?"
  • "No," I said, "poulps of huge dimensions."
  • "I will never believe that such animals exist," said Ned.
  • "Well," said Conseil, with the most serious air in the world, "I remembe_erfectly to have seen a large vessel drawn under the waves by an octopus'_rm."
  • "You saw that?" said the Canadian.
  • "Yes, Ned."
  • "With your own eyes?"
  • "With my own eyes."
  • "Where, pray, might that be?"
  • "At St. Malo," answered Conseil.
  • "In the port?" said Ned, ironically.
  • "No; in a church," replied Conseil.
  • "In a church!" cried the Canadian.
  • "Yes; friend Ned. In a picture representing the poulp in question."
  • "Good!" said Ned Land, bursting out laughing.
  • "He is quite right," I said. "I have heard of this picture; but the subjec_epresented is taken from a legend, and you know what to think of legends i_he matter of natural history. Besides, when it is a question of monsters, th_magination is apt to run wild. Not only is it supposed that these poulps ca_raw down vessels, but a certain Olaus Magnus speaks of an octopus a mile lon_hat is more like an island than an animal. It is also said that the Bishop o_idros was building an altar on an immense rock. Mass finished, the rock bega_o walk, and returned to the sea. The rock was a poulp. Another Bishop, Pontoppidan, speaks also of a poulp on which a regiment of cavalry coul_anoeuvre. Lastly, the ancient naturalists speak of monsters whose mouths wer_ike gulfs, and which were too large to pass through the Straits o_ibraltar."
  • "But how much is true of these stories?" asked Conseil.
  • "Nothing, my friends; at least of that which passes the limit of truth to ge_o fable or legend. Nevertheless, there must be some ground for th_magination of the story-tellers. One cannot deny that poulps and cuttlefis_xist of a large species, inferior, however, to the cetaceans. Aristotle ha_tated the dimensions of a cuttlefish as five cubits, or nine feet two inches.
  • Our fishermen frequently see some that are more than four feet long. Som_keletons of poulps are preserved in the museums of Trieste and Montpelier, that measure two yards in length. Besides, according to the calculations o_ome naturalists, one of these animals only six feet long would have tentacle_wenty-seven feet long. That would suffice to make a formidable monster."
  • "Do they fish for them in these days?" asked Ned.
  • "If they do not fish for them, sailors see them at least. One of my friends, Captain Paul Bos of Havre, has often affirmed that he met one of thes_onsters of colossal dimensions in the Indian seas. But the most astonishin_act, and which does not permit of the denial of the existence of thes_igantic animals, happened some years ago, in 1861."
  • "What is the fact?" asked Ned Land.
  • "This is it. In 1861, to the north-east of Teneriffe, very nearly in the sam_atitude we are in now, the crew of the despatch-boat Alector perceived _onstrous cuttlefish swimming in the waters. Captain Bouguer went near to th_nimal, and attacked it with harpoon and guns, without much success, for ball_nd harpoons glided over the soft flesh. After several fruitless attempts th_rew tried to pass a slip-knot round the body of the mollusc. The noos_lipped as far as the tail fins and there stopped. They tried then to haul i_n board, but its weight was so considerable that the tightness of the cor_eparated the tail from the, body, and, deprived of this ornament, h_isappeared under the water."
  • "Indeed! is that a fact?"
  • "An indisputable fact, my good Ned. They proposed to name this poulp
  • 'Bouguer's cuttlefish.'"
  • "What length was it?" asked the Canadian.
  • "Did it not measure about six yards?" said Conseil, who, posted at the window, was examining again the irregular windings of the cliff.
  • "Precisely," I replied.
  • "Its head," rejoined Conseil, "was it not crowned with eight tentacles, tha_eat the water like a nest of serpents?"
  • "Precisely."
  • "Had not its eyes, placed at the back of its head, considerable development?"
  • "Yes, Conseil."
  • "And was not its mouth like a parrot's beak?"
  • "Exactly, Conseil."
  • "Very well! no offence to master," be replied, quietly; "if this is no_ouguer's cuttlefish, it is, at least, one of its brothers."
  • I looked at Conseil. Ned Land hurried to the window.
  • "What a horrible beast!" he cried.
  • I looked in my turn, and could not repress a gesture of disgust. Before m_yes was a horrible monster worthy to figure in the legends of the marvellous.
  • It was an immense cuttlefish, being eight yards long. It swam crossways in th_irection of the Nautilus with great speed, watching us with its enormou_taring green eyes. Its eight arms, or rather feet, fixed to its head, tha_ave given the name of cephalopod to these animals, were twice as long as it_ody, and were twisted like the furies' hair. One could see the 250 air-hole_n the inner side of the tentacles. The monster's mouth, a horned beak like _arrot's, opened and shut vertically. Its tongue, a horned substance, furnished with several rows of pointed teeth, came out quivering from thi_eritable pair of shears. What a freak of nature, a bird's beak on a mollusc!
  • Its spindle-like body formed a fleshy mass that might weigh 4,000 to 5,00_b.; the, varying colour changing with great rapidity, according to th_rritation of the animal, passed successively from livid grey to reddis_rown. What irritated this mollusc? No doubt the presence of the Nautilus, more formidable than itself, and on which its suckers or its jaws had no hold.
  • Yet, what monsters these poulps are! what vitality the Creator has given them!
  • what vigour in their movements! and they possess three hearts! Chance ha_rought us in presence of this cuttlefish, and I did not wish to lose th_pportunity of carefully studying this specimen of cephalopods. I overcame th_orror that inspired me, and, taking a pencil, began to draw it.
  • "Perhaps this is the same which the Alector saw," said Conseil.
  • "No," replied the Canadian; "for this is whole, and the other had lost it_ail."
  • "That is no reason," I replied. "The arms and tails of these animals are re- formed by renewal; and in seven years the tail of Bouguer's cuttlefish has n_oubt had time to grow."
  • By this time other poulps appeared at the port light. I counted seven. The_ormed a procession after the Nautilus, and I heard their beaks gnashin_gainst the iron hull. I continued my work. These monsters kept in the wate_ith such precision that they seemed immovable. Suddenly the Nautilus stopped.
  • A shock made it tremble in every plate.
  • "Have we struck anything?" I asked.
  • "In any case," replied the Canadian, "we shall be free, for we are floating."
  • The Nautilus was floating, no doubt, but it did not move. A minute passed.
  • Captain Nemo, followed by his lieutenant, entered the drawing-room. I had no_een him for some time. He seemed dull. Without noticing or speaking to us, h_ent to the panel, looked at the poulps, and said something to his lieutenant.
  • The latter went out. Soon the panels were shut. The ceiling was lighted. _ent towards the Captain.
  • "A curious collection of poulps?" I said.
  • "Yes, indeed, Mr. Naturalist," he replied; "and we are going to fight them, man to beast."
  • I looked at him. I thought I had not heard aright.
  • "Man to beast?" I repeated.
  • "Yes, sir. The screw is stopped. I think that the horny jaws of one of th_uttlefish is entangled in the blades. That is what prevents our moving."
  • "What are you going to do?"
  • "Rise to the surface, and slaughter this vermin."
  • "A difficult enterprise."
  • "Yes, indeed. The electric bullets are powerless against the soft flesh, wher_hey do not find resistance enough to go off. But we shall attack them wit_he hatchet."
  • "And the harpoon, sir," said the Canadian, "if you do not refuse my help."
  • "I will accept it, Master Land."
  • "We will follow you," I said, and, following Captain Nemo, we went towards th_entral staircase.
  • There, about ten men with boarding-hatchets were ready for the attack. Consei_nd I took two hatchets; Ned Land seized a harpoon. The Nautilus had the_isen to the surface. One of the sailors, posted on the top ladderstep, unscrewed the bolts of the panels. But hardly were the screws loosed, when th_anel rose with great violence, evidently drawn by the suckers of a poulp'_rm. Immediately one of these arms slid like a serpent down the opening an_wenty others were above. With one blow of the axe, Captain Nemo cut thi_ormidable tentacle, that slid wriggling down the ladder. Just as we wer_ressing one on the other to reach the platform, two other arms, lashing th_ir, came down on the seaman placed before Captain Nemo, and lifted him u_ith irresistible power. Captain Nemo uttered a cry, and rushed out. W_urried after him.
  • What a scene! The unhappy man, seized by the tentacle and fixed to th_uckers, was balanced in the air at the caprice of this enormous trunk. H_attled in his throat, he was stifled, he cried, "Help! help!" These words, spoken in French, startled me! I had a fellow-countryman on board, perhap_everal! That heart-rending cry! I shall hear it all my life. The unfortunat_an was lost. Who could rescue him from that powerful pressure? However, Captain Nemo had rushed to the poulp, and with one blow of the axe had cu_hrough one arm. His lieutenant struggled furiously against other monster_hat crept on the flanks of the Nautilus. The crew fought with their axes. Th_anadian, Conseil, and I buried our weapons in the fleshy masses; a stron_mell of musk penetrated the atmosphere. It was horrible!
  • For one instant, I thought the unhappy man, entangled with the poulp, would b_orn from its powerful suction. Seven of the eight arms had been cut off. On_nly wriggled in the air, brandishing the victim like a feather. But just a_aptain Nemo and his lieutenant threw themselves on it, the animal ejected _tream of black liquid. We were blinded with it. When the cloud dispersed, th_uttlefish had disappeared, and my unfortunate countryman with it. Ten o_welve poulps now invaded the platform and sides of the Nautilus. We rolle_ell-mell into the midst of this nest of serpents, that wriggled on th_latform in the waves of blood and ink. It seemed as though these slim_entacles sprang up like the hydra's heads. Ned Land's harpoon, at eac_troke, was plunged into the staring eyes of the cuttlefish. But my bol_ompanion was suddenly overturned by the tentacles of a monster he had no_een able to avoid.
  • Ah! how my heart beat with emotion and horror! The formidable beak of _uttlefish was open over Ned Land. The unhappy man would be cut in two. _ushed to his succour. But Captain Nemo was before me; his axe disappeare_etween the two enormous jaws, and, miraculously saved, the Canadian, rising, plunged his harpoon deep into the triple heart of the poulp.
  • "I owed myself this revenge!" said the Captain to the Canadian.
  • Ned bowed without replying. The combat had lasted a quarter of an hour. Th_onsters, vanquished and mutilated, left us at last, and disappeared under th_aves. Captain Nemo, covered with blood, nearly exhausted, gazed upon the se_hat had swallowed up one of his companions, and great tears gathered in hi_yes.