Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas – Day 159 of 165

“Master may recall,” Conseil then said, “that we have some experience with swimming. He can rely on me to tow him to that vessel, if he’s agreeable to going with our friend Ned.”

Before I could reply, white smoke streamed from the battleship’s bow. Then, a few seconds later, the waters splashed astern of the Nautilus, disturbed by the fall of a heavy object. Soon after, an explosion struck my ears.

“What’s this? They’re firing at us!” I exclaimed.

“Good lads!” the Canadian muttered.

“That means they don’t see us as castaways clinging to some wreckage!”

“With all due respect to Master—gracious!” Conseil put in, shaking off the water that had sprayed over him from another shell. “With all due respect to master, they’ve discovered the narwhale and they’re cannonading the same.”

“But it must be clear to them,” I exclaimed, “that they’re dealing with human beings.”

“Maybe that’s why!” Ned Land replied, staring hard at me.

The full truth dawned on me. Undoubtedly people now knew where they stood on the existence of this so–called monster. Undoubtedly the latter’s encounter with the Abraham Lincoln, when the Canadian hit it with his harpoon, had led Commander Farragut to recognize the narwhale as actually an underwater boat, more dangerous than any unearthly cetacean!

Yes, this had to be the case, and undoubtedly they were now chasing this dreadful engine of destruction on every sea!

Dreadful indeed, if, as we could assume, Captain Nemo had been using the Nautilus in works of vengeance! That night in the middle of the Indian Ocean, when he imprisoned us in the cell, hadn’t he attacked some ship? That man now buried in the coral cemetery, wasn’t he the victim of some collision caused by the Nautilus? Yes, I repeat: this had to be the case. One part of Captain Nemo’s secret life had been unveiled. And now, even though his identity was still unknown, at least the nations allied against him knew they were no longer hunting some fairy–tale monster, but a man who had sworn an implacable hate toward them!

This whole fearsome sequence of events appeared in my mind’s eye. Instead of encountering friends on this approaching ship, we would find only pitiless enemies.

Meanwhile shells fell around us in increasing numbers. Some, meeting the liquid surface, would ricochet and vanish into the sea at considerable distances. But none of them reached the Nautilus.

By then the ironclad was no more than three miles off. Despite its violent cannonade, Captain Nemo hadn’t appeared on the platform. And yet if one of those conical shells had scored a routine hit on the Nautilus’s hull, it could have been fatal to him.

The Canadian then told me:

“Sir, we’ve got to do everything we can to get out of this jam! Let’s signal them! Damnation! Maybe they’ll realize we’re decent people!”

Ned Land pulled out his handkerchief to wave it in the air. But he had barely unfolded it when he was felled by an iron fist, and despite his great strength, he tumbled to the deck.

“Scum!” the captain shouted. “Do you want to be nailed to the Nautilus’s spur before it charges that ship?”

Dreadful to hear, Captain Nemo was even more dreadful to see. His face was pale from some spasm of his heart, which must have stopped beating for an instant. His pupils were hideously contracted. His voice was no longer speaking, it was bellowing. Bending from the waist, he shook the Canadian by the shoulders.

Then, dropping Ned and turning to the battleship, whose shells were showering around him:

“O ship of an accursed nation, you know who I am!” he shouted in his powerful voice. “And I don’t need your colors to recognize you! Look! I’ll show you mine!”

And in the bow of the platform, Captain Nemo unfurled a black flag, like the one he had left planted at the South Pole.

Just then a shell hit the Nautilus’s hull obliquely, failed to breach it, ricocheted near the captain, and vanished into the sea.

Captain Nemo shrugged his shoulders. Then, addressing me:

“Go below!” he told me in a curt tone. “You and your companions, go below!”

“Sir,” I exclaimed, “are you going to attack this ship?”

“Sir, I’m going to sink it.”

“You wouldn’t!”

“I will,” Captain Nemo replied icily. “You’re ill–advised to pass judgment on me, sir. Fate has shown you what you weren’t meant to see. The attack has come. Our reply will be dreadful. Get back inside!”

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