CHAPTER 17

From Cape Horn to the Amazon

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HOW I GOT ONTO the platform I'm unable to say.

Perhaps the Canadian transferred me there.  But I could breathe,

I could inhale the life-giving sea air.  Next to me my two

companions were getting tipsy on the fresh oxygen particles.

Poor souls who have suffered from long starvation mustn't pounce

heedlessly on the first food given them.  We, on the other hand,

didn't have to practice such moderation:  we could suck the atoms

from the air by the lungful, and it was the breeze, the breeze itself,

that poured into us this luxurious intoxication!

"Ahhh!"  Conseil was putting in.  "What fine oxygen!  Let master

have no fears about breathing.  There's enough for everyone."

As for Ned Land, he didn't say a word, but his wide-open jaws

would have scared off a shark.  And what powerful inhalations!

The Canadian "drew" like a furnace going full blast.

Our strength returned promptly, and when I looked around,

I saw that we were alone on the platform.  No crewmen.

Not even Captain Nemo.  Those strange seamen on the Nautilus

were content with the oxygen circulating inside.  Not one of them

had come up to enjoy the open air.

The first words I pronounced were words of appreciation

and gratitude to my two companions.  Ned and Conseil had kept

me alive during the final hours of our long death throes.

But no expression of thanks could repay them fully for such devotion.

"Good lord, professor," Ned Land answered me, "don't mention it!

What did we do that's so praiseworthy?  Not a thing.  It was a

question of simple arithmetic.  Your life is worth more than ours.

So we had to save it."

"No, Ned," I replied, "it isn't worth more.  Nobody could be better

than a kind and generous man like yourself!"

"All right, all right!" the Canadian repeated in embarrassment.

"And you, my gallant Conseil, you suffered a great deal."

"Not too much, to be candid with master.  I was lacking a few

throatfuls of air, but I would have gotten by.  Besides, when I saw

master fainting, it left me without the slightest desire to breathe.

It took my breath away, in a manner of . . ."

Confounded by this lapse into banality, Conseil left his sentence hanging.

"My friends," I replied, very moved, "we're bound to each other forever,

and I'm deeply indebted to you--"

"Which I'll take advantage of," the Canadian shot back.

"Eh?"  Conseil put in.

"Yes," Ned Land went on.  "You can repay your debt by coming with me

when I leave this infernal Nautilus."

"By the way," Conseil said, "are we going in a favorable direction?"

"Yes," I replied, "because we're going in the direction of the sun,

and here the sun is due north."

"Sure," Ned Land went on, "but it remains to be seen whether we'll

make for the Atlantic or the Pacific, in other words, whether we'll

end up in well-traveled or deserted seas."

I had no reply to this, and I feared that Captain Nemo wouldn't

take us homeward but rather into that huge ocean washing the shores

of both Asia and America.  In this way he would complete his underwater

tour of the world, going back to those seas where the Nautilus

enjoyed the greatest freedom.  But if we returned to the Pacific,

far from every populated shore, what would happen to Ned Land's plans?

We would soon settle this important point.  The Nautilus

traveled swiftly.  Soon we had cleared the Antarctic Circle

plus the promontory of Cape Horn.  We were abreast of the tip

of South America by March 31 at seven o'clock in the evening.

By then all our past sufferings were forgotten.  The memory

of that imprisonment under the ice faded from our minds.

We had thoughts only of the future.  Captain Nemo no longer appeared,

neither in the lounge nor on the platform.  The positions reported

each day on the world map were put there by the chief officer,

and they enabled me to determine the Nautilus's exact heading.

Now then, that evening it became obvious, much to my satisfaction,

that we were returning north by the Atlantic route.

I shared the results of my observations with the Canadian and Conseil.

"That's good news," the Canadian replied, "but where's

the Nautilus going?"

"I'm unable to say, Ned."

"After the South Pole, does our captain want to tackle the North Pole,

then go back to the Pacific by the notorious Northwest Passage?"

"I wouldn't double dare him," Conseil replied.

"Oh well," the Canadian said, "we'll give him the slip long before then."

"In any event," Conseil added, "he's a superman, that Captain Nemo,

and we'll never regret having known him."

"Especially once we've left him," Ned Land shot back.

The next day, April 1, when the Nautilus rose to the surface of

the waves a few minutes before noon, we raised land to the west.

It was Tierra del Fuego, the Land of Fire, a name given it

by early navigators after they saw numerous curls of smoke rising

from the natives' huts.  This Land of Fire forms a huge cluster

of islands over thirty leagues long and eighty leagues wide,

extending between latitude 53 degrees and 56 degrees south,

and between longitude 67 degrees 50' and 77 degrees 15' west.

Its coastline looked flat, but high mountains rose in the distance.

I even thought I glimpsed Mt.  Sarmiento, whose elevation is 2,070

meters above sea level:  a pyramid-shaped block of shale with a

very sharp summit, which, depending on whether it's clear or veiled

in vapor, "predicts fair weather or foul," as Ned Land told me.

"A first-class barometer, my friend."

"Yes, sir, a natural barometer that didn't let me down when I

navigated the narrows of the Strait of Magellan."

Just then its peak appeared before us, standing out distinctly

against the background of the skies.  This forecast fair weather.

And so it proved.

Going back under the waters, the Nautilus drew near the coast,

cruising along it for only a few miles.  Through the lounge

windows I could see long creepers and gigantic fucus plants,

bulb-bearing seaweed of which the open sea at the pole had revealed

a few specimens; with their smooth, viscous filaments, they measured

as much as 300 meters long; genuine cables more than an inch thick

and very tough, they're often used as mooring lines for ships.

Another weed, known by the name velp and boasting four-foot leaves,

was crammed into the coral concretions and carpeted the ocean floor.

It served as both nest and nourishment for myriads of crustaceans

and mollusks, for crabs and cuttlefish.  Here seals and otters could

indulge in a sumptuous meal, mixing meat from fish with vegetables

from the sea, like the English with their Irish stews.

The Nautilus passed over these lush, luxuriant depths with

tremendous speed.  Near evening it approached the Falkland Islands,

whose rugged summits I recognized the next day.  The sea was of

moderate depth.  So not without good reason, I assumed that these

two islands, plus the many islets surrounding them, used to be part

of the Magellan coastline.  The Falkland Islands were probably

discovered by the famous navigator John Davis, who gave them the name

Davis Southern Islands.  Later Sir Richard Hawkins called them

the Maidenland, after the Blessed Virgin.  Subsequently, at the beginning

of the 18th century, they were named the Malouines by fishermen

from Saint-Malo in Brittany, then finally dubbed the Falklands

by the English, to whom they belong today.

In these waterways our nets brought up fine samples of algae,

in particular certain fucus plants whose roots were laden with

the world's best mussels.  Geese and duck alighted by the dozens

on the platform and soon took their places in the ship's pantry.

As for fish, I specifically observed some bony fish belonging

to the goby genus, especially some gudgeon two decimeters long,

sprinkled with whitish and yellow spots.

I likewise marveled at the numerous medusas, including the most beautiful

of their breed, the compass jellyfish, unique to the Falkland seas.

Some of these jellyfish were shaped like very smooth,

semispheric parasols with russet stripes and fringes of twelve

neat festoons.  Others looked like upside-down baskets from

which wide leaves and long red twigs were gracefully trailing.

They swam with quiverings of their four leaflike arms,

letting the opulent tresses of their tentacles dangle in the drift.

I wanted to preserve a few specimens of these delicate zoophytes,

but they were merely clouds, shadows, illusions, melting and evaporating

outside their native element.

When the last tips of the Falkland Islands had disappeared below

the horizon, the Nautilus submerged to a depth between twenty

and twenty-five meters and went along the South American coast.

Captain Nemo didn't put in an appearance.

We didn't leave these Patagonian waterways until April 3,

sometimes cruising under the ocean, sometimes on its surface.

The Nautilus passed the wide estuary formed by the mouth of the Rio

de la Plata, and on April 4 we lay abreast of Uruguay, albeit fifty

miles out.  Keeping to its northerly heading, it followed the long

windings of South America.  By then we had fared 16,000 leagues

since coming on board in the seas of Japan.

Near eleven o'clock in the morning, we cut the Tropic of Capricorn

on the 37th meridian, passing well out from Cape Frio.  Much to

Ned Land's displeasure, Captain Nemo had no liking for the neighborhood

of Brazil's populous shores, because he shot by with dizzying speed.

Not even the swiftest fish or birds could keep up with us, and the

natural curiosities in these seas completely eluded our observation.

This speed was maintained for several days, and on the evening

of April 9, we raised South America's easternmost tip,

Cape São Roque.  But then the Nautilus veered away again and went

looking for the lowest depths of an underwater valley gouged between

this cape and Sierra Leone on the coast of Africa.  Abreast of

the West Indies, this valley forks into two arms, and to

the north it ends in an enormous depression 9,000 meters deep.

From this locality to the Lesser Antilles, the ocean's geologic

profile features a steeply cut cliff six kilometers high, and abreast

of the Cape Verde Islands, there's another wall just as imposing;

together these two barricades confine the whole submerged continent

of Atlantis.  The floor of this immense valley is made picturesque

by mountains that furnish these underwater depths with scenic views.

This description is based mostly on certain hand-drawn charts kept

in the Nautilus's library, charts obviously rendered by Captain Nemo

himself from his own personal observations.

For two days we visited these deep and deserted waters by means

of our slanting fins.  The Nautilus would do long, diagonal dives

that took us to every level.  But on April 11 it rose suddenly,

and the shore reappeared at the mouth of the Amazon River,

a huge estuary whose outflow is so considerable, it desalts the sea

over an area of several leagues.

We cut the Equator.  Twenty miles to the west lay Guiana, French

territory where we could easily have taken refuge.

But the wind was blowing a strong gust, and the furious

billows would not allow us to face them in a mere skiff.

No doubt Ned Land understood this because he said nothing to me.

For my part, I made no allusion to his escape plans because I didn't

want to push him into an attempt that was certain to misfire.

I was readily compensated for this delay by fascinating research.

During those two days of April 11-12, the Nautilus didn't leave

the surface of the sea, and its trawl brought up a simply miraculous

catch of zoophytes, fish, and reptiles.

Some zoophytes were dredged up by the chain of our trawl.  Most were

lovely sea anemone belonging to the family Actinidia, including among

other species, the Phyctalis protexta, native to this part of the ocean:

a small cylindrical trunk adorned with vertical lines, mottled with

red spots, and crowned by a wondrous blossoming of tentacles.

As for mollusks, they consisted of exhibits I had already observed:

turret snails, olive shells of the "tent olive" species with neatly

intersecting lines and russet spots standing out sharply against

a flesh-colored background, fanciful spider conchs that looked

like petrified scorpions, transparent glass snails, argonauts,

some highly edible cuttlefish, and certain species of squid

that the naturalists of antiquity classified with the flying fish,

which are used chiefly as bait for catching cod.

As for the fish in these waterways, I noted various species that I

hadn't yet had the opportunity to study.  Among cartilaginous fish:

some brook lamprey, a type of eel fifteen inches long, head greenish,

fins violet, back bluish gray, belly a silvery brown strewn with

bright spots, iris of the eye encircled in gold, unusual animals

that the Amazon's current must have swept out to sea because their

natural habitat is fresh water; sting rays, the snout pointed,

the tail long, slender, and armed with an extensive jagged sting;

small one-meter sharks with gray and whitish hides, their teeth

arranged in several backward-curving rows, fish commonly known

by the name carpet shark; batfish, a sort of reddish isosceles

triangle half a meter long, whose pectoral fins are attached

by fleshy extensions that make these fish look like bats,

although an appendage made of horn, located near the nostrils,

earns them the nickname of sea unicorns; lastly, a couple species

of triggerfish, the cucuyo whose stippled flanks glitter with a

sparkling gold color, and the bright purple leatherjacket whose

hues glisten like a pigeon's throat.

I'll finish up this catalog, a little dry but quite accurate,

with the series of bony fish I observed:  eels belonging to the genus

Apteronotus whose snow-white snout is very blunt, the body painted

a handsome black and armed with a very long, slender, fleshy whip;

long sardines from the genus Odontognathus, like three-decimeter pike,

shining with a bright silver glow; Guaranian mackerel furnished with two

anal fins; black-tinted rudderfish that you catch by using torches,

fish measuring two meters and boasting white, firm, plump meat that,

when fresh, tastes like eel, when dried, like smoked salmon;

semired wrasse sporting scales only at the bases of their dorsal

and anal fins; grunts on which gold and silver mingle their luster

with that of ruby and topaz; yellow-tailed gilthead whose flesh

is extremely dainty and whose phosphorescent properties give

them away in the midst of the waters; porgies tinted orange,

with slender tongues; croakers with gold caudal fins; black surgeonfish;

four-eyed fish from Surinam, etc.

This "et cetera" won't keep me from mentioning one more fish

that Conseil, with good reason, will long remember.

One of our nets had hauled up a type of very flat ray that weighed

some twenty kilograms; with its tail cut off, it would have formed

a perfect disk.  It was white underneath and reddish on top, with big

round spots of deep blue encircled in black, its hide quite smooth

and ending in a double-lobed fin.  Laid out on the platform, it kept

struggling with convulsive movements, trying to turn over, making such

efforts that its final lunge was about to flip it into the sea.

But Conseil, being very possessive of his fish, rushed at it,

and before I could stop him, he seized it with both hands.

Instantly there he was, thrown on his back, legs in the air,

his body half paralyzed, and yelling:

"Oh, sir, sir!  Will you help me!"

For once in his life, the poor lad didn't address me "in

the third person."

The Canadian and I sat him up; we massaged his contracted arms,

and when he regained his five senses, that eternal classifier

mumbled in a broken voice:

"Class of cartilaginous fish, order Chondropterygia with fixed gills,

suborder Selacia, family Rajiiforma, genus electric ray."

"Yes, my friend," I answered, "it was an electric ray that put you

in this deplorable state."

"Oh, master can trust me on this," Conseil shot back.

"I'll be revenged on that animal!"

"How?"

"I'll eat it."

Which he did that same evening, but strictly as retaliation.

Because, frankly, it tasted like leather.

Poor Conseil had assaulted an electric ray of the most dangerous species,

the cumana.  Living in a conducting medium such as water, this bizarre

animal can electrocute other fish from several meters away,

so great is the power of its electric organ, an organ whose two chief

surfaces measure at least twenty-seven square feet.

During the course of the next day, April 12, the Nautilus drew near the

coast of Dutch Guiana, by the mouth of the Maroni River.  There several

groups of sea cows were living in family units.  These were manatees,

which belong to the order Sirenia, like the dugong and Steller's sea cow.

Harmless and unaggressive, these fine animals were six to seven

meters long and must have weighed at least 4,000 kilograms each.

I told Ned Land and Conseil that farseeing nature had given these

mammals a major role to play.  In essence, manatees, like seals,

are designed to graze the underwater prairies, destroying the clusters

of weeds that obstruct the mouths of tropical rivers.

"And do you know," I added, "what happened since man has

almost completely wiped out these beneficial races?

Rotting weeds have poisoned the air, and this poisoned air causes

the yellow fever that devastates these wonderful countries.

This toxic vegetation has increased beneath the seas of the Torrid Zone,

so the disease spreads unchecked from the mouth of the Rio de la

Plata to Florida!"

And if Professor Toussenel is correct, this plague is nothing

compared to the scourge that will strike our descendants

once the seas are depopulated of whales and seals.  By then,

crowded with jellyfish, squid, and other devilfish, the oceans

will have become huge centers of infection, because their waves

will no longer possess "these huge stomachs that God has entrusted

with scouring the surface of the sea."

Meanwhile, without scorning these theories, the Nautilus's crew captured

half a dozen manatees.  In essence, it was an issue of stocking

the larder with excellent red meat, even better than beef or veal.

Their hunting was not a fascinating sport.  The manatees let

themselves be struck down without offering any resistance.

Several thousand kilos of meat were hauled below, to be dried and stored.

The same day an odd fishing practice further increased

the Nautilus's stores, so full of game were these seas.

Our trawl brought up in its meshes a number of fish whose heads were

topped by little oval slabs with fleshy edges.  These were suckerfish

from the third family of the subbrachian Malacopterygia.  These flat

disks on their heads consist of crosswise plates of movable cartilage,

between which the animals can create a vacuum, enabling them to stick

to objects like suction cups.

The remoras I had observed in the Mediterranean were related to

this species.  But the creature at issue here was an Echeneis osteochara,

unique to this sea.  Right after catching them, our seamen dropped

them in buckets of water.

Its fishing finished, the Nautilus drew nearer to the coast.

In this locality a number of sea turtles were sleeping on the surface

of the waves.  It would have been difficult to capture these

valuable reptiles, because they wake up at the slightest sound,

and their solid carapaces are harpoon-proof. But our suckerfish would

effect their capture with extraordinary certainty and precision.

In truth, this animal is a living fishhook, promising wealth

and happiness to the greenest fisherman in the business.

The Nautilus's men attached to each fish's tail a ring that was big

enough not to hamper its movements, and to this ring a long rope

whose other end was moored on board.

Thrown into the sea, the suckerfish immediately began to play their roles,

going and fastening themselves onto the breastplates of the turtles.

Their tenacity was so great, they would rip apart rather than let go.

They were hauled in, still sticking to the turtles that came

aboard with them.

In this way we caught several loggerheads, reptiles a meter

wide and weighing 200 kilos.  They're extremely valuable

because of their carapaces, which are covered with big slabs

of horn, thin, brown, transparent, with white and yellow markings.

Besides, they were excellent from an edible viewpoint, with an

exquisite flavor comparable to the green turtle.

This fishing ended our stay in the waterways of the Amazon,

and that evening the Nautilus took to the high seas once more.

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