Chapter I: A Shifting Reef
The year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and
puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten. Not to
mention rumours which agitated the maritime population and excited the
public mind, even in the interior of continents, seafaring men were
particularly excited. Merchants, common sailors, captains of vessels,
skippers, both of Europe and America, naval officers of all countries,
and the Governments of several states on the two continents, were
deeply interested in the matter.
For some time past, vessels had been met by “an enormous thing,” a long
object, spindle-shaped, occasionally phosphorescent, and infinitely
larger and more rapid in its movements than a whale.
The facts relating to this apparition (entered in various log-books)
agreed in most respects as to the shape of the object or creature in
question, the untiring rapidity of its movements, its surprising power
of locomotion, and the peculiar life with which it seemed endowed. If
it was a cetacean, it surpassed in size all those hitherto classified
in science. Taking into consideration the mean of observations made at
divers times,—rejecting the timid estimate of those who assigned to
this object a length of two hundred feet, equally with the exaggerated
opinions which set it down as a mile in width and three in length,—we
might fairly conclude that this mysterious being surpassed greatly all
dimensions admitted by the ichthyologists of the day, if it existed at
all. And that it did exist was an undeniable fact; and, with that
tendency which disposes the human mind in favour of the marvellous, we
can understand the excitement produced in the entire world by this
supernatural apparition. As to classing it in the list of fables, the
idea was out of the question.
Chapter II: Pro and Con
At the period when these events took place, I had just returned from a
scientific research in the disagreeable territory of Nebraska, in the
United States. In virtue of my office as Assistant Professor in the
Museum of Natural History in Paris, the French Government had attached
me to that expedition. After six months in Nebraska, I arrived in New
York towards the end of March, laden with a precious collection. My
departure for France was fixed for the first days in May. Meanwhile, I
was occupying myself in classifying my mineralogical, botanical, and
zoological riches, when the accident happened to the Scotia.
I was perfectly up in the subject which was the question of the day.
How could I be otherwise? I had read and re-read all the American and
European papers without being any nearer a conclusion. This mystery
puzzled me. Under the impossibility of forming an opinion, I jumped
from one extreme to the other. That there really was something could
not be doubted, and the incredulous were invited to put their finger on
the wound of the Scotia.
On my arrival at New York the question was at its height. The
hypothesis of the floating island, and the unapproachable sandbank,
supported by minds little competent to form a judgment, was abandoned.
And, indeed, unless this shoal had a machine in its stomach, how could
it change its position with such astonishing rapidity?
From the same cause, the idea of a floating hull of an enormous wreck
was given up.
Chapter I: The Indian Ocean
We now come to the second part of our journey under the sea. The first
ended with the moving scene in the coral cemetery which left such a
deep impression on my mind. Thus, in the midst of this great sea,
Captain Nemo’s life was passing, even to his grave, which he had
prepared in one of its deepest abysses. There, not one of the ocean’s
monsters could trouble the last sleep of the crew of the Nautilus, of
those friends riveted to each other in death as in life. “Nor any man,
either,” had added the Captain. Still the same fierce, implacable
defiance towards human society!
I could no longer content myself with the theory which satisfied
That worthy fellow persisted in seeing in the Commander of the
Nautilus one of those unknown savants who return mankind contempt
for indifference. For him, he was a misunderstood genius who, tired of
earth’s deceptions, had taken refuge in this inaccessible medium, where
he might follow his instincts freely. To my mind, this explains but one
side of Captain Nemo’s character. Indeed, the mystery of that last
night during which we had been chained in prison, the sleep, and the
precaution so violently taken by the Captain of snatching from my eyes
the glass I had raised to sweep the horizon, the mortal wound of the
man, due to an unaccountable shock of the Nautilus, all put me on a
new track. No; Captain Nemo was not satisfied with shunning man. His
formidable apparatus not only suited his instinct of freedom, but
perhaps also the design of some terrible retaliation.