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Chapter 9 A Lost Continent

  • 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."
  • "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?"
  • "Very much."
  • "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:
  • ATLANTIS
  • 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.