Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas – Day 163 of 165

Chapter 22: The Last Words of Captain Nemo

The panels closed over this frightful view, but the lights didn’t go on in the lounge. Inside the Nautilus all was gloom and silence. It left this place of devastation with prodigious speed, 100 feet beneath the waters. Where was it going? North or south? Where would the man flee after this horrible act of revenge?

I reentered my stateroom, where Ned and Conseil were waiting silently. Captain Nemo filled me with insurmountable horror. Whatever he had once suffered at the hands of humanity, he had no right to mete out such punishment. He had made me, if not an accomplice, at least an eyewitness to his vengeance! Even this was intolerable.

At eleven o’clock the electric lights came back on. I went into the lounge. It was deserted. I consulted the various instruments. The Nautilus was fleeing northward at a speed of twenty–five miles per hour, sometimes on the surface of the sea, sometimes thirty feet beneath it.

After our position had been marked on the chart, I saw that we were passing into the mouth of the English Channel, that our heading would take us to the northernmost seas with incomparable speed.

I could barely glimpse the swift passing of longnose sharks, hammerhead sharks, spotted dogfish that frequent these waters, big eagle rays, swarms of seahorse looking like knights on a chessboard, eels quivering like fireworks serpents, armies of crab that fled obliquely by crossing their pincers over their carapaces, finally schools of porpoise that held contests of speed with the Nautilus. But by this point observing, studying, and classifying were out of the question.

By evening we had cleared 200 leagues up the Atlantic. Shadows gathered and gloom overran the sea until the moon came up.

I repaired to my stateroom. I couldn’t sleep. I was assaulted by nightmares. That horrible scene of destruction kept repeating in my mind’s eye.

From that day forward, who knows where the Nautilus took us in the north Atlantic basin? Always at incalculable speed! Always amid the High Arctic mists! Did it call at the capes of Spitzbergen or the shores of Novaya Zemlya? Did it visit such uncharted seas as the White Sea, the Kara Sea, the Gulf of Ob, the Lyakhov Islands, or those unknown beaches on the Siberian coast? I’m unable to say. I lost track of the passing hours. Time was in abeyance on the ship’s clocks. As happens in the polar regions, it seemed that night and day no longer followed their normal sequence. I felt myself being drawn into that strange domain where the overwrought imagination of Edgar Allan Poe was at home. Like his fabled Arthur Gordon Pym, I expected any moment to see that “shrouded human figure, very far larger in its proportions than any dweller among men,” thrown across the cataract that protects the outskirts of the pole!

I estimate—but perhaps I’m mistaken—that the Nautilus’s haphazard course continued for fifteen or twenty days, and I’m not sure how long this would have gone on without the catastrophe that ended our voyage. As for Captain Nemo, he was no longer in the picture. As for his chief officer, the same applied. Not one crewman was visible for a single instant. The Nautilus cruised beneath the waters almost continuously. When it rose briefly to the surface to renew our air, the hatches opened and closed as if automated. No more positions were reported on the world map. I didn’t know where we were.

I’ll also mention that the Canadian, at the end of his strength and patience, made no further appearances. Conseil couldn’t coax a single word out of him and feared that, in a fit of delirium while under the sway of a ghastly homesickness, Ned would kill himself. So he kept a devoted watch on his friend every instant.

You can appreciate that under these conditions, our situation had become untenable.

One morning—whose date I’m unable to specify—I was slumbering near the first hours of daylight, a painful, sickly slumber. Waking up, I saw Ned Land leaning over me, and I heard him tell me in a low voice:

“We’re going to escape!”

I sat up.

“When?” I asked.

“Tonight. There doesn’t seem to be any supervision left on the Nautilus. You’d think a total daze was reigning on board. Will you be ready, sir?”

“Yes. Where are we?”

“In sight of land. I saw it through the mists just this morning, twenty miles to the east.”

“What land is it?”

“I’ve no idea, but whatever it is, there we’ll take refuge.”

“Yes, Ned! We’ll escape tonight even if the sea swallows us up!”

“The sea’s rough, the wind’s blowing hard, but a twenty–mile run in the Nautilus’s nimble longboat doesn’t scare me. Unknown to the crew, I’ve stowed some food and flasks of water inside.”

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