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."
"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.
"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.