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Chapter 7 A Whale of Unknown Species

  • ALTHOUGH I WAS startled by this unexpected descent, I at least have a ver_lear recollection of my sensations during it.
  • At first I was dragged about twenty feet under. I'm a good swimmer, withou_laiming to equal such other authors as Byron and Edgar Allan Poe, who wer_aster divers, and I didn't lose my head on the way down. With two vigorou_icks of the heel, I came back to the surface of the sea.
  • My first concern was to look for the frigate. Had the crew seen me g_verboard? Was the Abraham Lincoln tacking about? Would Commander Farragut pu_ longboat to sea? Could I hope to be rescued?
  • The gloom was profound. I glimpsed a black mass disappearing eastward, wher_ts running lights were fading out in the distance. It was the frigate. I fel_ was done for.
  • "Help! Help!" I shouted, swimming desperately toward the Abraham Lincoln.
  • My clothes were weighing me down. The water glued them to my body, they wer_aralyzing my movements. I was sinking! I was suffocating …  !
  • "Help!"
  • This was the last shout I gave. My mouth was filling with water. I struggle_gainst being dragged into the depths… .
  • Suddenly my clothes were seized by energetic hands, I felt myself pulle_bruptly back to the surface of the sea, and yes, I heard these word_ronounced in my ear:
  • "If master would oblige me by leaning on my shoulder, master will swim wit_uch greater ease."
  • With one hand I seized the arm of my loyal Conseil.
  • "You!" I said. "You!"
  • "Myself," Conseil replied, "and at master's command."
  • "That collision threw you overboard along with me?"
  • "Not at all. But being in master's employ, I followed master."
  • The fine lad thought this only natural!
  • "What about the frigate?" I asked.
  • "The frigate?" Conseil replied, rolling over on his back. "I think master ha_est not depend on it to any great extent!"
  • "What are you saying?"
  • "I'm saying that just as I jumped overboard, I heard the men at the hel_hout, 'Our propeller and rudder are smashed!' "
  • "Smashed?"
  • "Yes, smashed by the monster's tusk! I believe it's the sole injury th_braham Lincoln has sustained. But most inconveniently for us, the ship can n_onger steer."
  • "Then we're done for!"
  • "Perhaps," Conseil replied serenely. "However, we still have a few hour_efore us, and in a few hours one can do a great many things!"
  • Conseil's unflappable composure cheered me up. I swam more vigorously, bu_ampered by clothes that were as restricting as a cloak made of lead, I wa_anaging with only the greatest difficulty. Conseil noticed as much.
  • "Master will allow me to make an incision," he said.
  • And he slipped an open clasp knife under my clothes, slitting them from top t_ottom with one swift stroke. Then he briskly undressed me while I swam for u_oth.
  • I then did Conseil the same favor, and we continued to "navigate" side b_ide.
  • But our circumstances were no less dreadful. Perhaps they hadn't seen us g_verboard; and even if they had, the frigate—being undone by it_udder—couldn't return to leeward after us. So we could count only on it_ongboats.
  • Conseil had coolly reasoned out this hypothesis and laid his plan_ccordingly. An amazing character, this boy; in midocean, this stoic la_eemed right at home!
  • So, having concluded that our sole chance for salvation lay in being picked u_y the Abraham Lincoln's longboats, we had to take steps to wait for them a_ong as possible. Consequently, I decided to divide our energies so w_ouldn't both be worn out at the same time, and this was the arrangement: while one of us lay on his back, staying motionless with arms crossed and leg_utstretched, the other would swim and propel his partner forward. This towin_ole was to last no longer than ten minutes, and by relieving each other i_his way, we could stay afloat for hours, perhaps even until daybreak.
  • Slim chance, but hope springs eternal in the human breast! Besides, there wer_wo of us. Lastly, I can vouch—as improbable as it seems—that even if I ha_anted to destroy all my illusions, even if I had been willing to "give in t_espair," I could not have done so!
  • The cetacean had rammed our frigate at about eleven o'clock in the evening. _herefore calculated on eight hours of swimming until sunrise. A strenuou_ask, but feasible, thanks to our relieving each other. The sea was prett_mooth and barely tired us. Sometimes I tried to peer through the dense gloom, which was broken only by the phosphorescent flickers coming from ou_ovements. I stared at the luminous ripples breaking over my hands, shimmerin_heets spattered with blotches of bluish gray. It seemed as if we'd plunge_nto a pool of quicksilver.
  • Near one o'clock in the morning, I was overcome with tremendous exhaustion. M_imbs stiffened in the grip of intense cramps. Conseil had to keep me going, and attending to our self–preservation became his sole responsibility. I soo_eard the poor lad gasping; his breathing became shallow and quick. I didn'_hink he could stand such exertions for much longer.
  • "Go on! Go on!" I told him.
  • "Leave master behind?" he replied. "Never! I'll drown before he does!"
  • Just then, past the fringes of a large cloud that the wind was drivin_astward, the moon appeared. The surface of the sea glistened under its rays.
  • That kindly light rekindled our strength. I held up my head again. My eye_arted to every point of the horizon. I spotted the frigate. It was five mile_rom us and formed no more than a dark, barely perceptible mass. But as fo_ongboats, not a one in sight!
  • I tried to call out. What was the use at such a distance! My swollen lip_ouldn't let a single sound through. Conseil could still articulate a fe_ords, and I heard him repeat at intervals:
  • "Help! Help!"
  • Ceasing all movement for an instant, we listened. And it may have been _inging in my ear, from this organ filling with impeded blood, but it seeme_o me that Conseil's shout had received an answer back.
  • "Did you hear that?" I muttered.
  • "Yes, yes!"
  • And Conseil hurled another desperate plea into space.
  • This time there could be no mistake! A human voice had answered us! Was it th_oice of some poor devil left behind in midocean, some other victim of tha_ollision suffered by our ship? Or was it one of the frigate's longboats, hailing us out of the gloom?
  • Conseil made one final effort, and bracing his hands on my shoulders, while _ffered resistance with one supreme exertion, he raised himself half out o_he water, then fell back exhausted.
  • "What did you see?"
  • "I saw … ," he muttered, "I saw … but we mustn't talk … save our strength … !"
  • What had he seen? Then, lord knows why, the thought of the monster came int_y head for the first time …  ! But even so, that voice …  ? Gone are the day_hen Jonahs took refuge in the bellies of whales!
  • Nevertheless, Conseil kept towing me. Sometimes he looked up, stared straigh_head, and shouted a request for directions, which was answered by a voic_hat was getting closer and closer. I could barely hear it. I was at the en_f my strength; my fingers gave out; my hands were no help to me; my mout_pened convulsively, filling with brine; its coldness ran through me; I raise_y head one last time, then I collapsed… .
  • Just then something hard banged against me. I clung to it. Then I felt mysel_eing pulled upward, back to the surface of the water; my chest caved in, an_ fainted… .
  • For certain, I came to quickly, because someone was massaging me so vigorousl_t left furrows in my flesh. I half opened my eyes… .
  • "Conseil!" I muttered.
  • "Did master ring for me?" Conseil replied.
  • Just then, in the last light of a moon settling on the horizon, I spotted _ace that wasn't Conseil's but which I recognized at once.
  • "Ned!" I exclaimed.
  • "In person, sir, and still after his prize!" the Canadian replied.
  • "You were thrown overboard after the frigate's collision?"
  • "Yes, professor, but I was luckier than you, and right away I was able to se_oot on this floating islet."
  • "Islet?"
  • "Or in other words, on our gigantic narwhale."
  • "Explain yourself, Ned."
  • "It's just that I soon realized why my harpoon got blunted and couldn'_uncture its hide."
  • "Why, Ned, why?"
  • "Because, professor, this beast is made of boilerplate steel!"
  • At this point in my story, I need to get a grip on myself, reconstruct exactl_hat I experienced, and make doubly sure of everything I write.
  • The Canadian's last words caused a sudden upheaval in my brain. I swiftl_oisted myself to the summit of this half–submerged creature or object tha_as serving as our refuge. I tested it with my foot. Obviously it was som_ard, impenetrable substance, not the soft matter that makes up the bodies o_ur big marine mammals.
  • But this hard substance could have been a bony carapace, like those tha_overed some prehistoric animals, and I might have left it at that an_lassified this monster among such amphibious reptiles as turtles o_lligators.
  • Well, no. The blackish back supporting me was smooth and polished with n_verlapping scales. On impact, it gave off a metallic sonority, and a_ncredible as this sounds, it seemed, I swear, to be made of riveted plates.
  • No doubts were possible! This animal, this monster, this natural phenomeno_hat had puzzled the whole scientific world, that had muddled and misled th_inds of seamen in both hemispheres, was, there could be no escaping it, a_ven more astonishing phenomenon—a phenomenon made by the hand of man.
  • Even if I had discovered that some fabulous, mythological creature reall_xisted, it wouldn't have given me such a terrific mental jolt. It's eas_nough to accept that prodigious things can come from our Creator. But t_ind, all at once, right before your eyes, that the impossible had bee_ysteriously achieved by man himself: this staggers the mind!
  • But there was no question now. We were stretched out on the back of some kin_f underwater boat that, as far as I could judge, boasted the shape of a_mmense steel fish. Ned Land had clear views on the issue. Conseil and I coul_nly line up behind him.
  • "But then," I said, "does this contraption contain some sort of locomotiv_echanism, and a crew to run it?"
  • "Apparently," the harpooner replied. "And yet for the three hours I've live_n this floating island, it hasn't shown a sign of life."
  • "This boat hasn't moved at all?"
  • "No, Professor Aronnax. It just rides with the waves, but otherwise it hasn'_tirred."
  • "But we know that it's certainly gifted with great speed. Now then, since a_ngine is needed to generate that speed, and a mechanic to run that engine, _onclude: we're saved."
  • "Humph!" Ned Land put in, his tone denoting reservations.
  • Just then, as if to take my side in the argument, a bubbling began astern o_his strange submersible—whose drive mechanism was obviously a propeller—an_he boat started to move. We barely had time to hang on to its topside, whic_merged about eighty centimeters above water. Fortunately its speed was no_xcessive.
  • "So long as it navigates horizontally," Ned Land muttered, "I've n_omplaints. But if it gets the urge to dive, I wouldn't give $2.00 for m_ide!"
  • The Canadian might have quoted a much lower price. So it was imperative t_ake contact with whatever beings were confined inside the plating of thi_achine. I searched its surface for an opening or a hatch, a "manhole," to us_he official term; but the lines of rivets had been firmly driven into th_heet–iron joins and were straight and uniform.
  • Moreover, the moon then disappeared and left us in profound darkness. We ha_o wait for daylight to find some way of getting inside this underwater boat.
  • So our salvation lay totally in the hands of the mysterious helmsmen steerin_his submersible, and if it made a dive, we were done for! But aside from thi_ccurring, I didn't doubt the possibility of our making contact with them. I_act, if they didn't produce their own air, they inevitably had to mak_eriodic visits to the surface of the ocean to replenish their oxygen supply.
  • Hence the need for some opening that put the boat's interior in contact wit_he atmosphere.
  • As for any hope of being rescued by Commander Farragut, that had to b_enounced completely. We were being swept westward, and I estimate that ou_omparatively moderate speed reached twelve miles per hour. The propelle_hurned the waves with mathematical regularity, sometimes emerging above th_urface and throwing phosphorescent spray to great heights.
  • Near four o'clock in the morning, the submersible picked up speed. We coul_arely cope with this dizzying rush, and the waves battered us at close range.
  • Fortunately Ned's hands came across a big mooring ring fastened to the topsid_f this sheet–iron back, and we all held on for dear life.
  • Finally this long night was over. My imperfect memories won't let me recall m_very impression of it. A single detail comes back to me. Several times, during various lulls of wind and sea, I thought I heard indistinct sounds, _ort of elusive harmony produced by distant musical chords. What was th_ecret behind this underwater navigating, whose explanation the whole worl_ad sought in vain? What beings lived inside this strange boat? Wha_echanical force allowed it to move about with such prodigious speed?
  • Daylight appeared. The morning mists surrounded us, but they soon broke up. _as about to proceed with a careful examination of the hull, whose topsid_ormed a sort of horizontal platform, when I felt it sinking little by little.
  • "Oh, damnation!" Ned Land shouted, stamping his foot on the resonant shee_ron. "Open up there, you antisocial navigators!"
  • But it was difficult to make yourself heard above the deafening beats of th_ropeller. Fortunately this submerging movement stopped.
  • From inside the boat, there suddenly came noises of iron fastenings pushe_oughly aside. One of the steel plates flew up, a man appeared, gave a bizarr_ell, and instantly disappeared.
  • A few moments later, eight strapping fellows appeared silently, their face_ike masks, and dragged us down into their fearsome machine.