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 … !
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!' "
"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:
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.
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."
"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.