THE NEXT MORNING, February 19, I beheld the Canadian entering my stateroom. _as expecting this visit. He wore an expression of great disappointment.
"Well, sir?" he said to me.
"Well, Ned, the fates were against us yesterday."
"Yes! That damned captain had to call a halt just as we were going to escap_rom his boat."
"Yes, Ned, he had business with his bankers."
"Or rather his bank vaults. By which I mean this ocean, where his wealth i_afer than in any national treasury."
I then related the evening's incidents to the Canadian, secretly hoping h_ould come around to the idea of not deserting the captain; but my narrativ_ad no result other than Ned's voicing deep regret that he hadn't strolle_cross the Vigo battlefield on his own behalf.
"Anyhow," he said, "it's not over yet! My first harpoon missed, that's all!
We'll succeed the next time, and as soon as this evening, if need be … "
"What's the Nautilus's heading?" I asked.
"I've no idea," Ned replied.
"All right, at noon we'll find out what our position is!"
The Canadian returned to Conseil's side. As soon as I was dressed, I went int_he lounge. The compass wasn't encouraging. The Nautilus's course wa_outh–southwest. We were turning our backs on Europe.
I could hardly wait until our position was reported on the chart. Near 11:3_he ballast tanks emptied, and the submersible rose to the surface of th_cean. I leaped onto the platform. Ned Land was already there.
No more shore in sight. Nothing but the immenseness of the sea. A few sail_ere on the horizon, no doubt ships going as far as Cape São Roque to fin_avorable winds for doubling the Cape of Good Hope. The sky was overcast. _quall was on the way.
Furious, Ned tried to see through the mists on the horizon. He still hope_hat behind all that fog there lay those shores he longed for.
At noon the sun made a momentary appearance. Taking advantage of this rift i_he clouds, the chief officer took the orb's altitude. Then the sea gre_urbulent, we went below again, and the hatch closed once more.
When I consulted the chart an hour later, I saw that the Nautilus's positio_as marked at longitude 16° 17' and latitude 33° 22', a good 150 leagues fro_he nearest coast. It wouldn't do to even dream of escaping, and I'll let th_eader decide how promptly the Canadian threw a tantrum when I ventured t_ell him our situation.
As for me, I wasn't exactly grief–stricken. I felt as if a heavy weight ha_een lifted from me, and I was able to resume my regular tasks in a state o_omparative calm.
Near eleven o'clock in the evening, I received a most unexpected visit fro_aptain Nemo. He asked me very graciously if I felt exhausted from our vigi_he night before. I said no.
"Then, Professor Aronnax, I propose an unusual excursion."
"Propose away, Captain."
"So far you've visited the ocean depths only by day and under sunlight. Woul_ou like to see these depths on a dark night?"
"I warn you, this will be an exhausting stroll. We'll need to walk long hour_nd scale a mountain. The roads aren't terribly well kept up."
"Everything you say, Captain, just increases my curiosity. I'm ready to g_ith you."
"Then come along, professor, and we'll go put on our diving suits."
Arriving at the wardrobe, I saw that neither my companions nor any crewme_ould be coming with us on this excursion. Captain Nemo hadn't even suggeste_y fetching Ned or Conseil.
In a few moments we had put on our equipment. Air tanks, abundantly charged, were placed on our backs, but the electric lamps were not in readiness. _ommented on this to the captain.
"They'll be useless to us," he replied.
I thought I hadn't heard him right, but I couldn't repeat my comment becaus_he captain's head had already disappeared into its metal covering. I finishe_arnessing myself, I felt an alpenstock being placed in my hand, and a fe_inutes later, after the usual procedures, we set foot on the floor of th_tlantic, 300 meters down.
Midnight was approaching. The waters were profoundly dark, but Captain Nem_ointed to a reddish spot in the distance, a sort of wide glow shimmerin_bout two miles from the Nautilus. What this fire was, what substances fed it, how and why it kept burning in the liquid mass, I couldn't say. Anyhow it li_ur way, although hazily, but I soon grew accustomed to this unique gloom, an_n these circumstances I understood the uselessness of the Ruhmkorff device.
Side by side, Captain Nemo and I walked directly toward this conspicuou_lame. The level seafloor rose imperceptibly. We took long strides, helped b_ur alpenstocks; but in general our progress was slow, because our feet kep_inking into a kind of slimy mud mixed with seaweed and assorted flat stones.
As we moved forward, I heard a kind of pitter–patter above my head. Sometime_his noise increased and became a continuous crackle. I soon realized th_ause. It was a heavy rainfall rattling on the surface of the waves.
Instinctively I worried that I might get soaked! By water in the midst o_ater! I couldn't help smiling at this outlandish notion. But to tell th_ruth, wearing these heavy diving suits, you no longer feel the liqui_lement, you simply think you're in the midst of air a little denser than ai_n land, that's all.
After half an hour of walking, the seafloor grew rocky. Jellyfish, microscopi_rustaceans, and sea–pen coral lit it faintly with their phosphorescen_limmers. I glimpsed piles of stones covered by a couple million zoophytes an_angles of algae. My feet often slipped on this viscous seaweed carpet, an_ithout my alpenstock I would have fallen more than once. When I turne_round, I could still see the Nautilus's whitish beacon, which was starting t_row pale in the distance.
Those piles of stones just mentioned were laid out on the ocean floor with _istinct but inexplicable symmetry. I spotted gigantic furrows trailing of_nto the distant darkness, their length incalculable. There also were othe_eculiarities I couldn't make sense of. It seemed to me that my heavy lea_oles were crushing a litter of bones that made a dry crackling noise. So wha_ere these vast plains we were now crossing? I wanted to ask the captain, bu_ still didn't grasp that sign language that allowed him to chat with hi_ompanions when they went with him on his underwater excursions.
Meanwhile the reddish light guiding us had expanded and inflamed the horizon.
The presence of this furnace under the waters had me extremely puzzled. Was i_ome sort of electrical discharge? Was I approaching some natural phenomeno_till unknown to scientists on shore? Or, rather (and this thought did cros_y mind), had the hand of man intervened in that blaze? Had human being_anned those flames? In these deep strata would I meet up with more of Captai_emo's companions, friends he was about to visit who led lives as strange a_is own? Would I find a whole colony of exiles down here, men tired of th_orld's woes, men who had sought and found independence in the ocean's lowe_epths? All these insane, inadmissible ideas dogged me, and in this frame o_ind, continually excited by the series of wonders passing before my eyes, _ouldn't have been surprised to find on this sea bottom one of thos_nderwater towns Captain Nemo dreamed about!
Our path was getting brighter and brighter. The red glow had turned white an_as radiating from a mountain peak about 800 feet high. But what I saw wa_imply a reflection produced by the crystal waters of these strata. Th_urnace that was the source of this inexplicable light occupied the far sid_f the mountain.
In the midst of the stone mazes furrowing this Atlantic seafloor, Captain Nem_oved forward without hesitation. He knew this dark path. No doubt he ha_ften traveled it and was incapable of losing his way. I followed him wit_nshakeable confidence. He seemed like some Spirit of the Sea, and as h_alked ahead of me, I marveled at his tall figure, which stood out in blac_gainst the glowing background of the horizon.
It was one o'clock in the morning. We arrived at the mountain's lowe_radients. But in grappling with them, we had to venture up difficult trail_hrough a huge thicket.
Yes, a thicket of dead trees! Trees without leaves, without sap, turned t_tone by the action of the waters, and crowned here and there by giganti_ines. It was like a still–erect coalfield, its roots clutching broken soil, its boughs clearly outlined against the ceiling of the waters like thin, black, paper cutouts. Picture a forest clinging to the sides of a peak in th_arz Mountains, but a submerged forest. The trails were cluttered with alga_nd fucus plants, hosts of crustaceans swarming among them. I plunged on, scaling rocks, straddling fallen tree trunks, snapping marine creepers tha_wayed from one tree to another, startling the fish that flitted from branc_o branch. Carried away, I didn't feel exhausted any more. I followed a guid_ho was immune to exhaustion.
What a sight! How can I describe it! How can I portray these woods and rock_n this liquid setting, their lower parts dark and sullen, their upper part_inted red in this light whose intensity was doubled by the reflecting powe_f the waters! We scaled rocks that crumbled behind us, collapsing in enormou_ections with the hollow rumble of an avalanche. To our right and left ther_ere carved gloomy galleries where the eye lost its way. Huge glades opene_p, seemingly cleared by the hand of man, and I sometimes wondered whethe_ome residents of these underwater regions would suddenly appear before me.
But Captain Nemo kept climbing. I didn't want to fall behind. I followed hi_oldly. My alpenstock was a great help. One wrong step would have bee_isastrous on the narrow paths cut into the sides of these chasms, but _alked along with a firm tread and without the slightest feeling of dizziness.
Sometimes I leaped over a crevasse whose depth would have made me recoil had _een in the midst of glaciers on shore; sometimes I ventured out on a wobblin_ree trunk fallen across a gorge, without looking down, having eyes only fo_arveling at the wild scenery of this region. There, leaning on erraticall_ut foundations, monumental rocks seemed to defy the laws of balance. Fro_etween their stony knees, trees sprang up like jets under fearsome pressure, supporting other trees that supported them in turn. Next, natural towers wit_ide, steeply carved battlements leaned at angles that, on dry land, the law_f gravity would never have authorized.
And I too could feel the difference created by the water's powerfu_ensity—despite my heavy clothing, copper headpiece, and metal soles, _limbed the most impossibly steep gradients with all the nimbleness, I swea_t, of a chamois or a Pyrenees mountain goat!
As for my account of this excursion under the waters, I'm well aware that i_ounds incredible! I'm the chronicler of deeds seemingly impossible and ye_ncontestably real. This was no fantasy. This was what I saw and felt!
Two hours after leaving the Nautilus, we had cleared the timberline, and 10_eet above our heads stood the mountain peak, forming a dark silhouett_gainst the brilliant glare that came from its far slope. Petrified shrub_ambled here and there in sprawling zigzags. Fish rose in a body at our fee_ike birds startled in tall grass. The rocky mass was gouged with impenetrabl_revices, deep caves, unfathomable holes at whose far ends I could hea_earsome things moving around. My blood would curdle as I watched som_normous antenna bar my path, or saw some frightful pincer snap shut in th_hadow of some cavity! A thousand specks of light glittered in the midst o_he gloom. They were the eyes of gigantic crustaceans crouching in thei_airs, giant lobsters rearing up like spear carriers and moving their claw_ith a scrap–iron clanking, titanic crabs aiming their bodies like cannons o_heir carriages, and hideous devilfish intertwining their tentacles lik_ushes of writhing snakes.
What was this astounding world that I didn't yet know? In what order did thes_rticulates belong, these creatures for which the rocks provided a secon_arapace? Where had nature learned the secret of their vegetating existence, and for how many centuries had they lived in the ocean's lower strata?
But I couldn't linger. Captain Nemo, on familiar terms with these dreadfu_nimals, no longer minded them. We arrived at a preliminary plateau wher_till other surprises were waiting for me. There picturesque ruins took shape, betraying the hand of man, not our Creator. They were huge stacks of stones i_hich you could distinguish the indistinct forms of palaces and temples, no_rrayed in hosts of blossoming zoophytes, and over it all, not ivy but a heav_antle of algae and fucus plants.
But what part of the globe could this be, this land swallowed by cataclysms?
Who had set up these rocks and stones like the dolmens of prehistoric times?
Where was I, where had Captain Nemo's fancies taken me?
I wanted to ask him. Unable to, I stopped him. I seized his arm. But he shoo_is head, pointed to the mountain's topmost peak, and seemed to tell me:
"Come on! Come with me! Come higher!"
I followed him with one last burst of energy, and in a few minutes I ha_caled the peak, which crowned the whole rocky mass by some ten meters.
I looked back down the side we had just cleared. There the mountain rose onl_00 to 800 feet above the plains; but on its far slope it crowned the recedin_ottom of this part of the Atlantic by a height twice that. My eyes scanne_he distance and took in a vast area lit by intense flashes of light. I_ssence, this mountain was a volcano. Fifty feet below its peak, amid a showe_f stones and slag, a wide crater vomited torrents of lava that were disperse_n fiery cascades into the heart of the liquid mass. So situated, this volcan_as an immense torch that lit up the lower plains all the way to the horizon.
As I said, this underwater crater spewed lava, but not flames. Flames nee_xygen from the air and are unable to spread underwater; but a lava flow, which contains in itself the principle of its incandescence, can rise to _hite heat, overpower the liquid element, and turn it into steam on contact.
Swift currents swept away all this diffuse gas, and torrents of lava slid t_he foot of the mountain, like the disgorgings of a Mt. Vesuvius over the cit_imits of a second Torre del Greco.
In fact, there beneath my eyes was a town in ruins, demolished, overwhelmed, laid low, its roofs caved in, its temples pulled down, its arches dislocated, its columns stretching over the earth; in these ruins you could still detec_he solid proportions of a sort of Tuscan architecture; farther off, th_emains of a gigantic aqueduct; here, the caked heights of an acropolis alon_ith the fluid forms of a Parthenon; there, the remnants of a wharf, as i_ome bygone port had long ago harbored merchant vessels and triple–tiered wa_alleys on the shores of some lost ocean; still farther off, long rows o_ollapsing walls, deserted thoroughfares, a whole Pompeii buried under th_aters, which Captain Nemo had resurrected before my eyes!
Where was I? Where was I? I had to find out at all cost, I wanted to speak, _anted to rip off the copper sphere imprisoning my head.
But Captain Nemo came over and stopped me with a gesture. Then, picking up _iece of chalky stone, he advanced to a black basaltic rock and scrawled thi_ne word:
What lightning flashed through my mind! Atlantis, that ancient land of Meropi_entioned by the historian Theopompus; Plato's Atlantis; the continent whos_ery existence has been denied by such philosophers and scientists as Origen, Porphyry, Iamblichus, d'Anville, Malte–Brun, and Humboldt, who entered it_isappearance in the ledger of myths and folk tales; the country whose realit_as nevertheless been accepted by such other thinkers as Posidonius, Pliny, Ammianus Marcellinus, Tertullian, Engel, Scherer, Tournefort, Buffon, an_'Avezac; I had this land right under my eyes, furnishing its ow_nimpeachable evidence of the catastrophe that had overtaken it! So this wa_he submerged region that had existed outside Europe, Asia, and Libya, beyon_he Pillars of Hercules, home of those powerful Atlantean people against who_ncient Greece had waged its earliest wars!
The writer whose narratives record the lofty deeds of those heroic times i_lato himself. His dialogues Timæus and Critias were drafted with the poet an_egislator Solon as their inspiration, as it were.
One day Solon was conversing with some elderly wise men in the Egyptia_apital of Sais, a town already 8,000 years of age, as documented by th_nnals engraved on the sacred walls of its temples. One of these elder_elated the history of another town 1,000 years older still. This origina_ity of Athens, ninety centuries old, had been invaded and partly destroyed b_he Atlanteans. These Atlanteans, he said, resided on an immense continen_reater than Africa and Asia combined, taking in an area that lay betwee_atitude 12° and 40° north. Their dominion extended even to Egypt. They trie_o enforce their rule as far as Greece, but they had to retreat before th_ndomitable resistance of the Hellenic people. Centuries passed. A cataclys_ccurred—floods, earthquakes. A single night and day were enough to obliterat_his Atlantis, whose highest peaks (Madeira, the Azores, the Canaries, th_ape Verde Islands) still emerge above the waves.
These were the historical memories that Captain Nemo's scrawl sent rushin_hrough my mind. Thus, led by the strangest of fates, I was treading underfoo_ne of the mountains of that continent! My hands were touching ruins man_housands of years old, contemporary with prehistoric times! I was walking i_he very place where contemporaries of early man had walked! My heavy sole_ere crushing the skeletons of animals from the age of fable, animals tha_sed to take cover in the shade of these trees now turned to stone!
Oh, why was I so short of time! I would have gone down the steep slopes o_his mountain, crossed this entire immense continent, which surely connect_frica with America, and visited its great prehistoric cities. Under my eye_here perhaps lay the warlike town of Makhimos or the pious village o_usebes, whose gigantic inhabitants lived for whole centuries and had th_trength to raise blocks of stone that still withstood the action of th_aters. One day perhaps, some volcanic phenomenon will bring these sunke_uins back to the surface of the waves! Numerous underwater volcanoes hav_een sighted in this part of the ocean, and many ships have felt terrifi_remors when passing over these turbulent depths. A few have heard hollo_oises that announced some struggle of the elements far below, others hav_auled in volcanic ash hurled above the waves. As far as the equator thi_hole seafloor is still under construction by plutonic forces. And in som_emote epoch, built up by volcanic disgorgings and successive layers of lava, who knows whether the peaks of these fire–belching mountains may reappea_bove the surface of the Atlantic!
As I mused in this way, trying to establish in my memory every detail of thi_mpressive landscape, Captain Nemo was leaning his elbows on a moss–covere_onument, motionless as if petrified in some mute trance. Was he dreaming o_hose lost generations, asking them for the secret of human destiny? Was i_ere that this strange man came to revive himself, basking in historica_emories, reliving that bygone life, he who had no desire for our modern one?
I would have given anything to know his thoughts, to share them, understan_hem!
We stayed in this place an entire hour, contemplating its vast plains in th_ava's glow, which sometimes took on a startling intensity. Inner boiling_ent quick shivers running through the mountain's crust. Noises from dee_nderneath, clearly transmitted by the liquid medium, reverberated wit_ajestic amplitude.
Just then the moon appeared for an instant through the watery mass, casting _ew pale rays over this submerged continent. It was only a fleeting glimmer, but its effect was indescribable. The captain stood up and took one last loo_t these immense plains; then his hand signaled me to follow him.
We went swiftly down the mountain. Once past the petrified forest, I could se_he Nautilus's beacon twinkling like a star. The captain walked straigh_oward it, and we were back on board just as the first glimmers of dawn wer_hitening the surface of the ocean.