Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas – Day 99 of 165

“But in that case what do you expect?” the Canadian asked.

“That we’ll encounter advantageous conditions for escaping just as readily in six months as now.”

“Great Scott!” Ned Land put in. “And where, if you please, will we be in six months, Mr. Naturalist?”

“Perhaps here, perhaps in China. You know how quickly the Nautilus moves. It crosses oceans like swallows cross the air or express trains continents. It doesn’t fear heavily traveled seas. Who can say it won’t hug the coasts of France, England, or America, where an escape attempt could be carried out just as effectively as here.”

“Professor Aronnax,” the Canadian replied, “your arguments are rotten to the core. You talk way off in the future: ‘We’ll be here, we’ll be there!’ Me, I’m talking about right now: we are here, and we must take advantage of it!”

I was hard pressed by Ned Land’s common sense, and I felt myself losing ground. I no longer knew what arguments to put forward on my behalf.

“Sir,” Ned went on, “let’s suppose that by some impossibility, Captain Nemo offered your freedom to you this very day. Would you accept?”

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“And suppose he adds that this offer he’s making you today won’t ever be repeated, then would you accept?”

I did not reply.

“And what thinks our friend Conseil?” Ned Land asked.

“Your friend Conseil,” the fine lad replied serenely, “has nothing to say for himself. He’s a completely disinterested party on this question. Like his master, like his comrade Ned, he’s a bachelor. Neither wife, parents, nor children are waiting for him back home. He’s in Master’s employ, he thinks like Master, he speaks like Master, and much to his regret, he can’t be counted on to form a majority. Only two persons face each other here: Master on one side, Ned Land on the other. That said, your friend Conseil is listening, and he’s ready to keep score.”

I couldn’t help smiling as Conseil wiped himself out of existence. Deep down, the Canadian must have been overjoyed at not having to contend with him.

“Then, sir,” Ned Land said, “since Conseil is no more, we’ll have this discussion between just the two of us. I’ve talked, you’ve listened. What’s your reply?”

It was obvious that the matter had to be settled, and evasions were distasteful to me.

“Ned my friend,” I said, “here’s my reply. You have right on your side and my arguments can’t stand up to yours. It will never do to count on Captain Nemo’s benevolence. The most ordinary good sense would forbid him to set us free. On the other hand, good sense decrees that we take advantage of our first opportunity to leave the Nautilus.”

“Fine, Professor Aronnax, that’s wisely said.”

“But one proviso,” I said, “just one. The opportunity must be the real thing. Our first attempt to escape must succeed, because if it misfires, we won’t get a second chance, and Captain Nemo will never forgive us.”

“That’s also well put,” the Canadian replied. “But your proviso applies to any escape attempt, whether it happens in two years or two days. So this is still the question: if a promising opportunity comes up, we have to grab it.”

“Agreed. And now, Ned, will you tell me what you mean by a promising opportunity?”

“One that leads the Nautilus on a cloudy night within a short distance of some European coast.”

“And you’ll try to get away by swimming?”

“Yes, if we’re close enough to shore and the ship’s afloat on the surface. No, if we’re well out and the ship’s navigating under the waters.”

“And in that event?”

“In that event I’ll try to get hold of the skiff. I know how to handle it. We’ll stick ourselves inside, undo the bolts, and rise to the surface, without the helmsman in the bow seeing a thing.”

“Fine, Ned. Stay on the lookout for such an opportunity, but don’t forget, one slipup will finish us.”

“I won’t forget, sir.”

“And now, Ned, would you like to know my overall thinking on your plan?”

“Gladly, Professor Aronnax.”

“Well then, I think—and I don’t mean ‘I hope’—that your promising opportunity won’t ever arise.”

“Why not?”

“Because Captain Nemo recognizes that we haven’t given up all hope of recovering our freedom, and he’ll keep on his guard, above all in seas within sight of the coasts of Europe.”

“I’m of Master’s opinion,” Conseil said.

“We’ll soon see,” Ned Land replied, shaking his head with a determined expression.

“And now, Ned Land,” I added, “let’s leave it at that. Not another word on any of this. The day you’re ready, alert us and we’re with you. I turn it all over to you.”

That’s how we ended this conversation, which later was to have such serious consequences. At first, I must say, events seemed to confirm my forecasts, much to the Canadian’s despair. Did Captain Nemo view us with distrust in these heavily traveled seas, or did he simply want to hide from the sight of those ships of every nation that plowed the Mediterranean? I have no idea, but usually he stayed in midwater and well out from any coast. Either the Nautilus surfaced only enough to let its pilothouse emerge, or it slipped away to the lower depths, although, between the Greek Islands and Asia Minor, we didn’t find bottom even at 2,000 meters down.

Accordingly, I became aware of the isle of Karpathos, one of the Sporades Islands, only when Captain Nemo placed his finger over a spot on the world map and quoted me this verse from Virgil:

Est in Carpathio Neptuni gurgite vates
Caeruleus Proteus . . .

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