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Chapter 4 Ned Land

  • COMMANDER FARRAGUT was a good seaman, worthy of the frigate he commanded. Hi_hip and he were one. He was its very soul. On the cetacean question no doubt_rose in his mind, and he didn't allow the animal's existence to be dispute_board his vessel. He believed in it as certain pious women believe in th_eviathan from the Book of Job—out of faith, not reason. The monster existed, and he had vowed to rid the seas of it. The man was a sort of Knight o_hodes, a latter-day Sir Dieudonné of Gozo, on his way to fight an encounte_ith the dragon devastating the island. Either Commander Farragut would sla_he narwhale, or the narwhale would slay Commander Farragut. No middle of th_oad for these two.
  • The ship's officers shared the views of their leader. They could be hear_hatting, discussing, arguing, calculating the different chances of a_ncounter, and observing the vast expanse of the ocean. Voluntary watches fro_he crosstrees of the topgallant sail were self-imposed by more than one wh_ould have cursed such toil under any other circumstances. As often as the su_wept over its daily arc, the masts were populated with sailors whose fee_tched and couldn't hold still on the planking of the deck below! And th_braham Lincoln's stempost hadn't even cut the suspected waters of th_acific.
  • As for the crew, they only wanted to encounter the unicorn, harpoon it, hau_t on board, and carve it up. They surveyed the sea with scrupulous care.
  • Besides, Commander Farragut had mentioned that a certain sum of $2,000.00 wa_aiting for the man who first sighted the animal, be he cabin boy or sailor, mate or officer. I'll let the reader decide whether eyes got proper exercis_board the Abraham Lincoln.
  • As for me, I didn't lag behind the others and I yielded to no one my share i_hese daily observations. Our frigate would have had fivescore good reason_or renaming itself the Argus, after that mythological beast with 100 eyes!
  • The lone rebel among us was Conseil, who seemed utterly uninterested in th_uestion exciting us and was out of step with the general enthusiasm on board.
  • As I said, Commander Farragut had carefully equipped his ship with all th_ear needed to fish for a gigantic cetacean. No whaling vessel could have bee_etter armed. We had every known mechanism, from the hand-hurled harpoon, t_he blunderbuss firing barbed arrows, to the duck gun with exploding bullets.
  • On the forecastle was mounted the latest model breech-loading cannon, ver_eavy of barrel and narrow of bore, a weapon that would figure in th_niversal Exhibition of 1867. Made in America, this valuable instrument coul_ire a four-kilogram conical projectile an average distance of sixtee_ilometers without the least bother.
  • So the Abraham Lincoln wasn't lacking in means of destruction. But it ha_etter still. It had Ned Land, the King of Harpooners.
  • Gifted with uncommon manual ability, Ned Land was a Canadian who had no equa_n his dangerous trade. Dexterity, coolness, bravery, and cunning were virtue_e possessed to a high degree, and it took a truly crafty baleen whale or a_xceptionally astute sperm whale to elude the thrusts of his harpoon.
  • Ned Land was about forty years old. A man of great height—over six Englis_eet—he was powerfully built, serious in manner, not very sociable, sometime_eadstrong, and quite ill-tempered when crossed. His looks caught th_ttention, and above all the strength of his gaze, which gave a uniqu_mphasis to his facial appearance.
  • Commander Farragut, to my thinking, had made a wise move in hiring on thi_an. With his eye and his throwing arm, he was worth the whole crew all b_imself. I can do no better than to compare him with a powerful telescope tha_ould double as a cannon always ready to fire.
  • To say Canadian is to say French, and as unsociable as Ned Land was, I mus_dmit he took a definite liking to me. No doubt it was my nationality tha_ttracted him. It was an opportunity for him to speak, and for me to hear, that old Rabelaisian dialect still used in some Canadian provinces. Th_arpooner's family originated in Quebec, and they were already a line of bol_ishermen back in the days when this town still belonged to France.
  • Little by little Ned developed a taste for chatting, and I loved hearing th_ales of his adventures in the polar seas. He described his fishing trips an_is battles with great natural lyricism. His tales took on the form of an epi_oem, and I felt I was hearing some Canadian Homer reciting his Iliad of th_igh Arctic regions.
  • I'm writing of this bold companion as I currently know him. Because we'v_ecome old friends, united in that permanent comradeship born and cemente_uring only the most frightful crises! Ah, my gallant Ned! I ask only to liv_00 years more, the longer to remember you!
  • And now, what were Ned Land's views on this question of a marine monster? _ust admit that he flatly didn't believe in the unicorn, and alone on board, he didn't share the general conviction. He avoided even dealing with th_ubject, for which one day I felt compelled to take him to task.
  • During the magnificent evening of June 25—in other words, three weeks afte_ur departure—the frigate lay abreast of Cabo Blanco, thirty miles to leewar_f the coast of Patagonia. We had crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, and th_trait of Magellan opened less than 700 miles to the south. Before eight day_ere out, the Abraham Lincoln would plow the waves of the Pacific.
  • Seated on the afterdeck, Ned Land and I chatted about one thing and another, staring at that mysterious sea whose depths to this day are beyond the reac_f human eyes. Quite naturally, I led our conversation around to the gian_nicorn, and I weighed our expedition's various chances for success o_ailure. Then, seeing that Ned just let me talk without saying much himself, _ressed him more closely.
  • "Ned," I asked him, "how can you still doubt the reality of this cetacea_e're after? Do you have any particular reasons for being so skeptical?"
  • The harpooner stared at me awhile before replying, slapped his broad forehea_n one of his standard gestures, closed his eyes as if to collect himself, an_inally said:
  • "Just maybe, Professor Aronnax."
  • "But Ned, you're a professional whaler, a man familiar with all the grea_arine mammals—your mind should easily accept this hypothesis of an enormou_etacean, and you ought to be the last one to doubt it under thes_ircumstances!"
  • "That's just where you're mistaken, professor," Ned replied. "The common ma_ay still believe in fabulous comets crossing outer space, or in prehistori_onsters living at the earth's core, but astronomers and geologists don'_wallow such fairy tales. It's the same with whalers. I've chased plenty o_etaceans, I've harpooned a good number, I've killed several. But no matte_ow powerful and well armed they were, neither their tails or their tusk_ould puncture the sheet-iron plates of a steamer."
  • "Even so, Ned, people mention vessels that narwhale tusks have run clea_hrough."
  • "Wooden ships maybe," the Canadian replied. "But I've never seen the like. S_ill I have proof to the contrary, I'll deny that baleen whales, sperm whales, or unicorns can do any such thing."
  • "Listen to me, Ned—"
  • "No, no, professor. I'll go along with anything you want except that. Som_igantic devilfish maybe …  ?"
  • "Even less likely, Ned. The devilfish is merely a mollusk, and even this nam_ints at its semiliquid flesh, because it's Latin meaning soft one. Th_evilfish doesn't belong to the vertebrate branch, and even if it were 50_eet long, it would still be utterly harmless to ships like the Scotia or th_braham Lincoln. Consequently, the feats of krakens or other monsters of tha_lk must be relegated to the realm of fiction."
  • "So, Mr. Naturalist," Ned Land continued in a bantering tone, "you'll jus_eep on believing in the existence of some enormous cetacean …  ?"
  • "Yes, Ned, I repeat it with a conviction backed by factual logic. I believe i_he existence of a mammal with a powerful constitution, belonging to th_ertebrate branch like baleen whales, sperm whales, or dolphins, and arme_ith a tusk made of horn that has tremendous penetrating power."
  • "Humph!" the harpooner put in, shaking his head with the attitude of a man wh_oesn't want to be convinced.
  • "Note well, my fine Canadian," I went on, "if such an animal exists, if i_ives deep in the ocean, if it frequents the liquid strata located mile_eneath the surface of the water, it needs to have a constitution so solid, i_efies all comparison."
  • "And why this powerful constitution?" Ned asked.
  • "Because it takes incalculable strength just to live in those deep strata an_ithstand their pressure."
  • "Oh really?" Ned said, tipping me a wink.
  • "Oh really, and I can prove it to you with a few simple figures."
  • "Bosh!" Ned replied. "You can make figures do anything you want!"
  • "In business, Ned, but not in mathematics. Listen to me. Let's accept that th_ressure of one atmosphere is represented by the pressure of a column of wate_hirty-two feet high. In reality, such a column of water wouldn't be quite s_igh because here we're dealing with salt water, which is denser than fres_ater. Well then, when you dive under the waves, Ned, for every thirty-tw_eet of water above you, your body is tolerating the pressure of one mor_tmosphere, in other words, one more kilogram per each square centimeter o_our body's surface. So it follows that at 320 feet down, this pressure i_qual to ten atmospheres, to 100 atmospheres at 3,200 feet, and to 1,00_tmospheres at 32,000 feet, that is, at about two and a half vertical league_own. Which is tantamount to saying that if you could reach such a depth i_he ocean, each square centimeter on your body's surface would be experiencin_,000 kilograms of pressure. Now, my gallant Ned, do you know how many squar_entimeters you have on your bodily surface?"
  • "I haven't the foggiest notion, Professor Aronnax."
  • "About 17,000."
  • "As many as that?"
  • "Yes, and since the atmosphere's pressure actually weighs slightly more tha_ne kilogram per square centimeter, your 17,000 square centimeters ar_olerating 17,568 kilograms at this very moment."
  • "Without my noticing it?"
  • "Without your noticing it. And if you aren't crushed by so much pressure, it'_ecause the air penetrates the interior of your body with equal pressure. Whe_he inside and outside pressures are in perfect balance, they neutralize eac_ther and allow you to tolerate them without discomfort. But in the water it'_nother story."
  • "Yes, I see," Ned replied, growing more interested. "Because the wate_urrounds me but doesn't penetrate me."
  • "Precisely, Ned. So at thirty-two feet beneath the surface of the sea, you'l_ndergo a pressure of 17,568 kilograms; at 320 feet, or ten times greate_ressure, it's 175,680 kilograms; at 3,200 feet, or 100 times greate_ressure, it's 1,756,800 kilograms; finally, at 32,000 feet, or 1,000 time_reater pressure, it's 17,568,000 kilograms; in other words, you'd be squashe_s flat as if you'd just been yanked from between the plates of a hydrauli_ress!"
  • "Fire and brimstone!" Ned put in.
  • "All right then, my fine harpooner, if vertebrates several hundred meters lon_nd proportionate in bulk live at such depths, their surface areas make u_illions of square centimeters, and the pressure they undergo must be assesse_n billions of kilograms. Calculate, then, how much resistance of bon_tructure and strength of constitution they'd need in order to withstand suc_ressures!"
  • "They'd need to be manufactured," Ned Land replied, "from sheet-iron plate_ight inches thick, like ironclad frigates."
  • "Right, Ned, and then picture the damage such a mass could inflict if it wer_aunched with the speed of an express train against a ship's hull."
  • "Yes … indeed … maybe," the Canadian replied, staggered by these figures bu_till not willing to give in.
  • "Well, have I convinced you?"
  • "You've convinced me of one thing, Mr. Naturalist. That deep in the sea, suc_nimals would need to be just as strong as you say— if they exist."
  • "But if they don't exist, my stubborn harpooner, how do you explain th_ccident that happened to the Scotia?"
  • "It's maybe … ," Ned said, hesitating.
  • "Go on!"
  • "Because … it just couldn't be true!" the Canadian replied, unconsciousl_choing a famous catchphrase of the scientist Arago.
  • But this reply proved nothing, other than how bullheaded the harpooner coul_e. That day I pressed him no further. The Scotia's accident was undeniable.
  • Its hole was real enough that it had to be plugged up, and I don't think _ole's existence can be more emphatically proven. Now then, this hole didn'_ake itself, and since it hadn't resulted from underwater rocks or underwate_achines, it must have been caused by the perforating tool of some animal.
  • Now, for all the reasons put forward to this point, I believed that thi_nimal was a member of the branch Vertebrata, class Mammalia, grou_isciforma, and finally, order Cetacea. As for the family in which it would b_laced (baleen whale, sperm whale, or dolphin), the genus to which i_elonged, and the species in which it would find its proper home, thes_uestions had to be left for later. To answer them called for dissecting thi_nknown monster; to dissect it called for catching it; to catch it called fo_arpooning it— which was Ned Land's business; to harpoon it called fo_ighting it— which was the crew's business; and to sight it called fo_ncountering it— which was a chancy business.