6: The Grecian Archipelago
The next day, the 12th of February, at the dawn of day, the Nautilus rose to the surface. I hastened on to the platform. Three miles to the south the dim outline of Pelusium was to be seen. A torrent had carried us from one sea to another. About seven o’clock Ned and Conseil joined me.
“Well, Sir Naturalist,” said the Canadian, in a slightly jovial tone, “and the Mediterranean?”
“We are floating on its surface, friend Ned.”
“What!” said Conseil, “this very night.”
“Yes, this very night; in a few minutes we have passed this impassable isthmus.”
“I do not believe it,” replied the Canadian.
“Then you are wrong, Master Land,” I continued; “this low coast which rounds off to the south is the Egyptian coast. And you who have such good eyes, Ned, you can see the jetty of Port Said stretching into the sea.”
The Canadian looked attentively.
“Certainly you are right, sir, and your Captain is a first-rate man. We are in the Mediterranean. Good! Now, if you please, let us talk of our own little affair, but so that no one hears us.”
I saw what the Canadian wanted, and, in any case, I thought it better to let him talk, as he wished it; so we all three went and sat down near the lantern, where we were less exposed to the spray of the blades.
“Now, Ned, we listen; what have you to tell us?”
“What I have to tell you is very simple. We are in Europe; and before Captain Nemo’s caprices drag us once more to the bottom of the Polar Seas, or lead us into Oceania, I ask to leave the Nautilus.”
I wished in no way to shackle the liberty of my companions, but I certainly felt no desire to leave Captain Nemo.
Thanks to him, and thanks to his apparatus, I was each day nearer the completion of my submarine studies; and I was rewriting my book of submarine depths in its very element. Should I ever again have such an opportunity of observing the wonders of the ocean? No, certainly not! And I could not bring myself to the idea of abandoning the Nautilus before the cycle of investigation was accomplished.
“Friend Ned, answer me frankly, are you tired of being on board? Are you sorry that destiny has thrown us into Captain Nemo’s hands?”
The Canadian remained some moments without answering. Then, crossing his arms, he said:
“Frankly, I do not regret this journey under the seas. I shall be glad to have made it; but, now that it is made, let us have done with it. That is my idea.”
“It will come to an end, Ned.”
“Where and when?”
“Where I do not know–when I cannot say; or, rather, I suppose it will end when these seas have nothing more to teach us.”
“Then what do you hope for?” demanded the Canadian.
“That circumstances may occur as well six months hence as now by which we may and ought to profit.”
“Oh!” said Ned Land, “and where shall we be in six months, if you please, Sir Naturalist?”
“Perhaps in China; you know the Nautilus is a rapid traveller. It goes through water as swallows through the air, or as an express on the land. It does not fear frequented seas; who can say that it may not beat the coasts of France, England, or America, on which flight may be attempted as advantageously as here.”
“M. Aronnax,” replied the Canadian, “your arguments are rotten at the foundation. You speak in the future, `We shall be there! we shall be here!’ I speak in the present, `We are here, and we must profit by it.'”
Ned Land’s logic pressed me hard, and I felt myself beaten on that ground. I knew not what argument would now tell in my favour.
“Sir,” continued Ned, “let us suppose an impossibility: if Captain Nemo should this day offer you your liberty; would you accept it?”
“I do not know,” I answered.
“And if,” he added, “the offer made you this day was never to be renewed, would you accept it?”
“Friend Ned, this is my answer. Your reasoning is against me. We must not rely on Captain Nemo’s good-will. Common prudence forbids him to set us at liberty. On the other side, prudence bids us profit by the first opportunity to leave the Nautilus.”
“Well, M. Aronnax, that is wisely said.”
“Only one observation–just one. The occasion must be serious, and our first attempt must succeed; if it fails, we shall never find another, and Captain Nemo will never forgive us.”
“All that is true,” replied the Canadian. “But your observation applies equally to all attempts at flight, whether in two years’ time, or in two days’. But the question is still this: If a favourable opportunity presents itself, it must be seized.”
“Agreed! And now, Ned, will you tell me what you mean by a favourable opportunity?”
“It will be that which, on a dark night, will bring the Nautilus a short distance from some European coast.”
“And you will try and save yourself by swimming?”
“Yes, if we were near enough to the bank, and if the vessel was floating at the time. Not if the bank was far away, and the boat was under the water.”
“And in that case?”
“In that case, I should seek to make myself master of the pinnace. I know how it is worked. We must get inside, and the bolts once drawn, we shall come to the surface of the water, without even the pilot, who is in the bows, perceiving our flight.”
“Well, Ned, watch for the opportunity; but do not forget that a hitch will ruin us.”
“I will not forget, sir.”
“And now, Ned, would you like to know what I think of your project?”
“Certainly, M. Aronnax.”
“Well, I think–I do not say I hope–I think that this favourable opportunity will never present itself.”
“Because Captain Nemo cannot hide from himself that we have not given up all hope of regaining our liberty, and he will be on his guard, above all, in the seas and in the sight of European coasts.”
“We shall see,” replied Ned Land, shaking his head determinedly.
“And now, Ned Land,” I added, “let us stop here. Not another word on the subject. The day that you are ready, come and let us know, and we will follow you. I rely entirely upon you.”
Thus ended a conversation which, at no very distant time, led to such grave results. I must say here that facts seemed to confirm my foresight, to the Canadian’s great despair. Did Captain Nemo distrust us in these frequented seas? or did he only wish to hide himself from the numerous vessels, of all nations, which ploughed the Mediterranean? I could not tell; but we were oftener between waters and far from the coast. Or, if the Nautilus did emerge, nothing was to be seen but the pilot’s cage; and sometimes it went to great depths, for, between the Grecian Archipelago and Asia Minor we could not touch the bottom by more than a thousand fathoms.
Thus I only knew we were near the Island of Carpathos, one of the Sporades, by Captain Nemo reciting these lines from Virgil:
“Est Carpathio Neptuni gurgite vates, Caeruleus Proteus,”
as he pointed to a spot on the planisphere.
It was indeed the ancient abode of Proteus, the old shepherd of Neptune’s flocks, now the Island of Scarpanto, situated between Rhodes and Crete. I saw nothing but the granite base through the glass panels of the saloon.
The next day, the 14th of February, I resolved to employ some hours in studying the fishes of the Archipelago; but for some reason or other the panels remained hermetically sealed. Upon taking the course of the Nautilus, I found that we were going towards Candia, the ancient Isle of Crete. At the time I embarked on the Abraham Lincoln, the whole of this island had risen in insurrection against the despotism of the Turks. But how the insurgents had fared since that time I was absolutely ignorant, and it was not Captain Nemo, deprived of all land communications, who could tell me.
I made no allusion to this event when that night I found myself alone with him in the saloon. Besides, he seemed to be taciturn and preoccupied. Then, contrary to his custom, he ordered both panels to be opened, and, going from one to the other, observed the mass of waters attentively. To what end I could not guess; so, on my side, I employed my time in studying the fish passing before my eyes.
In the midst of the waters a man appeared, a diver, carrying at his belt a leathern purse. It was not a body abandoned to the waves; it was a living man, swimming with a strong hand, disappearing occasionally to take breath at the surface.
I turned towards Captain Nemo, and in an agitated voice exclaimed:
“A man shipwrecked! He must be saved at any price!”
The Captain did not answer me, but came and leaned against the panel.
The man had approached, and, with his face flattened against the glass, was looking at us.
To my great amazement, Captain Nemo signed to him. The diver answered with his hand, mounted immediately to the surface of the water, and did not appear again.
“Do not be uncomfortable,” said Captain Nemo. “It is Nicholas of Cape Matapan, surnamed Pesca. He is well known in all the Cyclades. A bold diver! water is his element, and he lives more in it than on land, going continually from one island to another, even as far as Crete.”
“You know him, Captain?”
“Why not, M. Aronnax?”
Saying which, Captain Nemo went towards a piece of furniture standing near the left panel of the saloon. Near this piece of furniture, I saw a chest bound with iron, on the cover of which was a copper plate, bearing the cypher of the Nautilus with its device.
At that moment, the Captain, without noticing my presence, opened the piece of furniture, a sort of strong box, which held a great many ingots.
They were ingots of gold. From whence came this precious metal, which represented an enormous sum? Where did the Captain gather this gold from? and what was he going to do with it?
I did not say one word. I looked. Captain Nemo took the ingots one by one, and arranged them methodically in the chest, which he filled entirely. I estimated the contents at more than 4,000 lb. weight of gold, that is to say, nearly L200,000.
The chest was securely fastened, and the Captain wrote an address on the lid, in characters which must have belonged to Modern Greece.
This done, Captain Nemo pressed a knob, the wire of which communicated with the quarters of the crew. Four men appeared, and, not without some trouble, pushed the chest out of the saloon. Then I heard them hoisting it up the iron staircase by means of pulleys.
At that moment, Captain Nemo turned to me.
“And you were saying, sir?” said he.
“I was saying nothing, Captain.”
“Then, sir, if you will allow me, I will wish you good night.”
Whereupon he turned and left the saloon.
I returned to my room much troubled, as one may believe. I vainly tried to sleep–I sought the connecting link between the apparition of the diver and the chest filled with gold. Soon, I felt by certain movements of pitching and tossing that the Nautilus was leaving the depths and returning to the surface.
Then I heard steps upon the platform; and I knew they were unfastening the pinnace and launching it upon the waves. For one instant it struck the side of the Nautilus, then all noise ceased.
Two hours after, the same noise, the same going and coming was renewed; the boat was hoisted on board, replaced in its socket, and the Nautilus again plunged under the waves.
So these millions had been transported to their address. To what point of the continent? Who was Captain Nemo’s correspondent?
The next day I related to Conseil and the Canadian the events of the night, which had excited my curiosity to the highest degree. My companions were not less surprised than myself.
“But where does he take his millions to?” asked Ned Land.
To that there was no possible answer. I returned to the saloon after having breakfast and set to work. Till five o’clock in the evening I employed myself in arranging my notes. At that moment–(ought I to attribute it to some peculiar idiosyncrasy)– I felt so great a heat that I was obliged to take off my coat. It was strange, for we were under low latitudes; and even then the Nautilus, submerged as it was, ought to experience no change of temperature. I looked at the manometer; it showed a depth of sixty feet, to which atmospheric heat could never attain.
I continued my work, but the temperature rose to such a pitch as to be intolerable.
“Could there be fire on board?” I asked myself.
I was leaving the saloon, when Captain Nemo entered; he approached the thermometer, consulted it, and, turning to me, said:
“I have noticed it, Captain,” I replied; “and if it gets much hotter we cannot bear it.”
“Oh, sir, it will not get better if we do not wish it.”
“You can reduce it as you please, then?”
“No; but I can go farther from the stove which produces it.”
“It is outward, then!”
“Certainly; we are floating in a current of boiling water.”
“Is it possible!” I exclaimed.
The panels opened, and I saw the sea entirely white all round. A sulphurous smoke was curling amid the waves, which boiled like water in a copper. I placed my hand on one of the panes of glass, but the heat was so great that I quickly took it off again.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“Near the Island of Santorin, sir,” replied the Captain. “I wished to give you a sight of the curious spectacle of a submarine eruption.”
“I thought,” said I, “that the formation of these new islands was ended.”
“Nothing is ever ended in the volcanic parts of the sea,” replied Captain Nemo; “and the globe is always being worked by subterranean fires. Already, in the nineteenth year of our era, according to Cassiodorus and Pliny, a new island, Theia (the divine), appeared in the very place where these islets have recently been formed. Then they sank under the waves, to rise again in the year 69, when they again subsided. Since that time to our days the Plutonian work has been suspended. But on the 3rd of February, 1866, a new island, which they named George Island, emerged from the midst of the sulphurous vapour near Nea Kamenni, and settled again the 6th of the same month. Seven days after, the 13th of February, the Island of Aphroessa appeared, leaving between Nea Kamenni and itself a canal ten yards broad. I was in these seas when the phenomenon occurred, and I was able therefore to observe all the different phases. The Island of Aphroessa, of round form, measured 300 feet in diameter, and 30 feet in height. It was composed of black and vitreous lava, mixed with fragments of felspar. And lastly, on the 10th of March, a smaller island, called Reka, showed itself near Nea Kamenni, and since then these three have joined together, forming but one and the same island.”
“And the canal in which we are at this moment?” I asked.
“Here it is,” replied Captain Nemo, showing me a map of the Archipelago. “You see, I have marked the new islands.”
I returned to the glass. The Nautilus was no longer moving, the heat was becoming unbearable. The sea, which till now had been white, was red, owing to the presence of salts of iron. In spite of the ship’s being hermetically sealed, an insupportable smell of sulphur filled the saloon, and the brilliancy of the electricity was entirely extinguished by bright scarlet flames. I was in a bath, I was choking, I was broiled.
“We can remain no longer in this boiling water,” said I to the Captain.
“It would not be prudent,” replied the impassive Captain Nemo.
An order was given; the Nautilus tacked about and left the furnace it could not brave with impunity. A quarter of an hour after we were breathing fresh air on the surface. The thought then struck me that, if Ned Land had chosen this part of the sea for our flight, we should never have come alive out of this sea of fire.
The next day, the 16th of February, we left the basin which, between Rhodes and Alexandria, is reckoned about 1,500 fathoms in depth, and the Nautilus, passing some distance from Cerigo, quitted the Grecian Archipelago after having doubled Cape Matapan.