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Reading Room 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea




20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
by Jules Verne

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It was the commander of the vessel who thus spoke.

At these words, Ned Land rose suddenly. The steward,

nearly strangled, tottered out on a sign from his master.

But such was the power of the commander on board, that not

a gesture betrayed the resentment which this man must have felt

towards the Canadian. Conseil interested in spite of himself,

I stupefied, awaited in silence the result of this scene.

The commander, leaning against the corner of a table with his arms folded,

scanned us with profound attention. Did he hesitate to speak?

Did he regret the words which he had just spoken in French?

One might almost think so.

After some moments of silence, which not one of us dreamed

of breaking, "Gentlemen," said he, in a calm and penetrating voice,

"I speak French, English, German, and Latin equally well.

I could, therefore, have answered you at our first interview, but I

wished to know you first, then to reflect. The story told by each one,

entirely agreeing in the main points, convinced me of your identity.

I know now that chance has brought before me M. Pierre Aronnax,

Professor of Natural History at the Museum of Paris, entrusted with

a scientific mission abroad, Conseil, his servant, and Ned Land,

of Canadian origin, harpooner on board the frigate Abraham Lincoln

of the navy of the United States of America."

I bowed assent. It was not a question that the commander put to me.

Therefore there was no answer to be made. This man expressed himself

with perfect ease, without any accent. His sentences were well turned,

his words clear, and his fluency of speech remarkable. Yet, I did not

recognise in him a fellow-countryman.

He continued the conversation in these terms:

"You have doubtless thought, sir, that I have delayed long in paying

you this second visit. The reason is that, your identity recognised,

I wished to weigh maturely what part to act towards you.

I have hesitated much. Most annoying circumstances have brought you

into the presence of a man who has broken all the ties of humanity.

You have come to trouble my existence."

"Unintentionally!" said I.

"Unintentionally?" replied the stranger, raising his voice a little.

"Was it unintentionally that the Abraham Lincoln pursued me all over

the seas? Was it unintentionally that you took passage in this frigate?

Was it unintentionally that your cannon-balls rebounded off the plating

of my vessel? Was it unintentionally that Mr. Ned Land struck me

with his harpoon?"

I detected a restrained irritation in these words.

But to these recriminations I had a very natural answer to make,

and I made it.

"Sir," said I, "no doubt you are ignorant of the discussions

which have taken place concerning you in America and Europe.

You do not know that divers accidents, caused by collisions with your

submarine machine, have excited public feeling in the two continents.

I omit the theories without number by which it was sought

to explain that of which you alone possess the secret.

But you must understand that, in pursuing you over the high

seas of the Pacific, the Abraham Lincoln believed itself to be

chasing some powerful sea-monster, of which it was necessary

to rid the ocean at any price."

A half-smile curled the lips of the commander: then, in a calmer tone:

"M. Aronnax," he replied, "dare you affirm that your frigate

would not as soon have pursued and cannonaded a submarine boat

as a monster?"

This question embarrassed me, for certainly Captain Farragut might

not have hesitated. He might have thought it his duty to destroy

a contrivance of this kind, as he would a gigantic narwhal.

"You understand then, sir," continued the stranger, "that I

have the right to treat you as enemies?"

I answered nothing, purposely. For what good would it be to discuss

such a proposition, when force could destroy the best arguments?

"I have hesitated some time," continued the commander; "nothing obliged

me to show you hospitality. If I chose to separate myself from you,

I should have no interest in seeing you again; I could place you

upon the deck of this vessel which has served you as a refuge,

I could sink beneath the waters, and forget that you had ever existed.

Would not that be my right?"

"It might be the right of a savage," I answered, "but not

that of a civilised man."

"Professor," replied the commander, quickly, "I am not what you

call a civilised man! I have done with society entirely,

for reasons which I alone have the right of appreciating.

I do not, therefore, obey its laws, and I desire you never to allude

to them before me again!"

This was said plainly. A flash of anger and disdain kindled in the eyes of

the Unknown, and I had a glimpse of a terrible past in the life of this man.

Not only had he put himself beyond the pale of human laws, but he had made

himself independent of them, free in the strictest acceptation of the word,

quite beyond their reach! Who then would dare to pursue him at the bottom of

the sea, when, on its surface, he defied all attempts made against him?

What vessel could resist the shock of his submarine monitor?

What cuirass, however thick, could withstand the blows of his spur?

No man could demand from him an account of his actions;

God, if he believed in one--his conscience, if he had one--

were the sole judges to whom he was answerable.

These reflections crossed my mind rapidly, whilst the stranger

personage was silent, absorbed, and as if wrapped up in himself.

I regarded him with fear mingled with interest, as, doubtless,

OEdiphus regarded the Sphinx.

After rather a long silence, the commander resumed the conversation.

"I have hesitated," said he, "but I have thought that my interest might

be reconciled with that pity to which every human being has a right.

You will remain on board my vessel, since fate has cast you there.

You will be free; and, in exchange for this liberty, I shall only impose one

single condition. Your word of honour to submit to it will suffice."

"Speak, sir," I answered. "I suppose this condition is one which a man

of honour may accept?"

"Yes, sir; it is this: It is possible that certain events,

unforeseen, may oblige me to consign you to your cabins for some hours

or some days, as the case may be. As I desire never to use violence,

I expect from you, more than all the others, a passive obedience.

In thus acting, I take all the responsibility: I acquit you entirely,

for I make it an impossibility for you to see what ought not to be seen.

Do you accept this condition?"

Then things took place on board which, to say the least,

were singular, and which ought not to be seen by people

who were not placed beyond the pale of social laws.

Amongst the surprises which the future was preparing for me,

this might not be the least.

"We accept," I answered; "only I will ask your permission, sir, to address

one question to you--one only."

"Speak, sir."

"You said that we should be free on board."


"I ask you, then, what you mean by this liberty?"

"Just the liberty to go, to come, to see, to observe even all

that passes here save under rare circumstances--the liberty,

in short, which we enjoy ourselves, my companions and I."

It was evident that we did not understand one another.

"Pardon me, sir," I resumed, "but this liberty is only what every

prisoner has of pacing his prison. It cannot suffice us."

"It must suffice you, however."

"What! we must renounce for ever seeing our country, our friends,

our relations again?"

"Yes, sir. But to renounce that unendurable worldly yoke which men

believe to be liberty is not perhaps so painful as you think."

"Well," exclaimed Ned Land, "never will I give my word of honour

not to try to escape."

"I did not ask you for your word of honour, Master Land,"

answered the commander, coldly.

"Sir," I replied, beginning to get angry in spite of my self,

"you abuse your situation towards us; it is cruelty."

"No, sir, it is clemency. You are my prisoners of war. I keep you,

when I could, by a word, plunge you into the depths of the ocean.

You attacked me. You came to surprise a secret which no man

in the world must penetrate--the secret of my whole existence.

And you think that I am going to send you back to that world which must

know me no more? Never! In retaining you, it is not you whom I guard--

it is myself."

These words indicated a resolution taken on the part of the commander,

against which no arguments would prevail.

"So, sir," I rejoined, "you give us simply the choice between life and death?"


"My friends," said I, "to a question thus put, there is nothing to answer.

But no word of honour binds us to the master of this vessel."

"None, sir," answered the Unknown.

Then, in a gentler tone, he continued:

"Now, permit me to finish what I have to say to you. I know you,

M. Aronnax. You and your companions will not, perhaps, have so much

to complain of in the chance which has bound you to my fate.

You will find amongst the books which are my favourite study the work

which you have published on `the depths of the sea.' I have often read it.

You have carried out your work as far as terrestrial science permitted you.

But you do not know all--you have not seen all. Let me tell you then,

Professor, that you will not regret the time passed on board my vessel.

You are going to visit the land of marvels."

These words of the commander had a great effect upon me. I cannot deny it.

My weak point was touched; and I forgot, for a moment, that the contemplation

of these sublime subjects was not worth the loss of liberty.

Besides, I trusted to the future to decide this grave question.

So I contented myself with saying:

"By what name ought I to address you?"

"Sir," replied the commander, "I am nothing to you but Captain Nemo;

and you and your companions are nothing to me but the passengers

of the Nautilus."

Captain Nemo called. A steward appeared. The captain gave him

his orders in that strange language which I did not understand.

Then, turning towards the Canadian and Conseil:

"A repast awaits you in your cabin," said he. "Be so good

as to follow this man.

"And now, M. Aronnax, our breakfast is ready. Permit me to lead the way."

"I am at your service, Captain."

I followed Captain Nemo; and as soon as I had passed through the door,

I found myself in a kind of passage lighted by electricity,

similar to the waist of a ship. After we had proceeded a dozen yards,

a second door opened before me.

I then entered a dining-room, decorated and furnished

in severe taste. High oaken sideboards, inlaid with ebony,

stood at the two extremities of the room, and upon their shelves

glittered china, porcelain, and glass of inestimable value.

The plate on the table sparkled in the rays which the luminous

ceiling shed around, while the light was tempered and softened

by exquisite paintings.

In the centre of the room was a table richly laid out.

Captain Nemo indicated the place I was to occupy.

The breakfast consisted of a certain number of dishes,

the contents of which were furnished by the sea alone;

and I was ignorant of the nature and mode of preparation

of some of them. I acknowledged that they were good, but they

had a peculiar flavour, which I easily became accustomed to.

These different aliments appeared to me to be rich in phosphorus,

and I thought they must have a marine origin.

Captain Nemo looked at me. I asked him no questions, but he guessed

my thoughts, and answered of his own accord the questions which I

was burning to address to him.

"The greater part of these dishes are unknown to you,"

he said to me. "However, you may partake of them without fear.

They are wholesome and nourishing. For a long time I have

renounced the food of the earth, and I am never ill now.

My crew, who are healthy, are fed on the same food."

"So," said I, "all these eatables are the produce of the sea?"

"Yes, Professor, the sea supplies all my wants. Sometimes I cast

my nets in tow, and I draw them in ready to break. Sometimes I

hunt in the midst of this element, which appears to be inaccessible

to man, and quarry the game which dwells in my submarine forests.

My flocks, like those of Neptune's old shepherds, graze fearlessly

in the immense prairies of the ocean. I have a vast property there,

which I cultivate myself, and which is always sown by the hand

of the Creator of all things."

"I can understand perfectly, sir, that your nets furnish excellent fish

for your table; I can understand also that you hunt aquatic game in your

submarine forests; but I cannot understand at all how a particle of meat,

no matter how small, can figure in your bill of fare."

"This, which you believe to be meat, Professor, is nothing else than

fillet of turtle. Here are also some dolphins' livers, which you

take to be ragout of pork. My cook is a clever fellow,

who excels in dressing these various products of the ocean.

Taste all these dishes. Here is a preserve of sea-cucumber,

which a Malay would declare to be unrivalled in the world;

here is a cream, of which the milk has been furnished by

the cetacea, and the sugar by the great fucus of the North Sea;

and, lastly, permit me to offer you some preserve of anemones,

which is equal to that of the most delicious fruits."

I tasted, more from curiosity than as a connoisseur, whilst Captain

Nemo enchanted me with his extraordinary stories.

"You like the sea, Captain?"

"Yes; I love it! The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths

of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy.

It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely,

for he feels life stirring on all sides. The sea is only

the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence.

It is nothing but love and emotion; it is the `Living Infinite,'

as one of your poets has said. In fact, Professor, Nature manifests

herself in it by her three kingdoms--mineral, vegetable, and animal.

The sea is the vast reservoir of Nature. The globe began with sea,

so to speak; and who knows if it will not end with it?

In it is supreme tranquillity. The sea does not belong to despots.

Upon its surface men can still exercise unjust laws, fight, tear one

another to pieces, and be carried away with terrestrial horrors.

But at thirty feet below its level, their reign ceases,

their influence is quenched, and their power disappears.

Ah! sir, live--live in the bosom of the waters!

There only is independence! There I recognise no masters!

There I am free!"

Captain Nemo suddenly became silent in the midst of

this enthusiasm, by which he was quite carried away.

For a few moments he paced up and down, much agitated.

Then he became more calm, regained his accustomed coldness

of expression, and turning towards me:

"Now, Professor," said he, "if you wish to go over the Nautilus,

I am at your service."

Captain Nemo rose. I followed him. A double door, contrived at the back

of the dining-room, opened, and I entered a room equal in dimensions

to that which I had just quitted.

It was a library. High pieces of furniture, of black violet

ebony inlaid with brass, supported upon their wide shelves

a great number of books uniformly bound. They followed the shape

of the room, terminating at the lower part in huge divans,

covered with brown leather, which were curved, to afford

the greatest comfort. Light movable desks, made to slide in

and out at will, allowed one to rest one's book while reading.

In the centre stood an immense table, covered with pamphlets,

amongst which were some newspapers, already of old date.

The electric light flooded everything; it was shed from four

unpolished globes half sunk in the volutes of the ceiling.

I looked with real admiration at this room, so ingeniously fitted up,

and I could scarcely believe my eyes.

"Captain Nemo," said I to my host, who had just thrown himself

on one of the divans, "this is a library which would do honour

to more than one of the continental palaces, and I am absolutely

astounded when I consider that it can follow you to the bottom

of the seas."

"Where could one find greater solitude or silence, Professor?"

replied Captain Nemo. "Did your study in the Museum afford you

such perfect quiet?"

"No, sir; and I must confess that it is a very poor one after yours.

You must have six or seven thousand volumes here."

"Twelve thousand, M. Aronnax. These are the only ties which bind

me to the earth. But I had done with the world on the day

when my Nautilus plunged for the first time beneath the waters.

That day I bought my last volumes, my last pamphlets, my last papers,

and from that time I wish to think that men no longer think or write.

These books, Professor, are at your service besides, and you can make use

of them freely."

I thanked Captain Nemo, and went up to the shelves of the library.

Works on science, morals, and literature abounded in every language;

but I did not see one single work on political economy; that subject

appeared to be strictly proscribed. Strange to say, all these books

were irregularly arranged, in whatever language they were written;

and this medley proved that the Captain of the Nautilus must have read

indiscriminately the books which he took up by chance.

"Sir," said I to the Captain, "I thank you for having placed

this library at my disposal. It contains treasures of science,

and I shall profit by them."

"This room is not only a library," said Captain Nemo,

"it is also a smoking-room."

"A smoking-room!" I cried. "Then one may smoke on board?"


"Then, sir, I am forced to believe that you have kept up

a communication with Havannah."

"Not any," answered the Captain. "Accept this cigar,

M. Aronnax; and, though it does not come from Havannah,

you will be pleased with it, if you are a connoisseur."

I took the cigar which was offered me; its shape recalled

the London ones, but it seemed to be made of leaves of gold.

I lighted it at a little brazier, which was supported upon an

elegant bronze stem, and drew the first whiffs with the delight

of a lover of smoking who has not smoked for two days.

"It is excellent, but it is not tobacco."

"No!" answered the Captain, "this tobacco comes neither from Havannah

nor from the East. It is a kind of sea-weed, rich in nicotine,

with which the sea provides me, but somewhat sparingly."

At that moment Captain Nemo opened a door which stood opposite

to that by which I had entered the library, and I passed into

an immense drawing-room splendidly lighted.

It was a vast, four-sided room, thirty feet long, eighteen wide,

and fifteen high. A luminous ceiling, decorated with light arabesques,

shed a soft clear light over all the marvels accumulated in this museum.

For it was in fact a museum, in which an intelligent and prodigal hand

had gathered all the treasures of nature and art, with the artistic

confusion which distinguishes a painter's studio.

{several sentences are missing here in the omnibus edition}

Thirty first-rate pictures, uniformly framed, separated by bright drapery,

ornamented the walls, which were hung with tapestry of severe design.

I saw works of great value, the greater part of which I had admired in the

special collections of Europe, and in the exhibitions of paintings.

Some admirable statues in marble and bronze, after the finest antique models,

stood upon pedestals in the corners of this magnificent museum.

Amazement, as the Captain of the Nautilus had predicted, had already

begun to take possession of me.

"Professor," said this strange man, "you must excuse the unceremonious

way in which I receive you, and the disorder of this room."

"Sir," I answered, "without seeking to know who you are,

I recognise in you an artist."

"An amateur, nothing more, sir. Formerly I loved to collect

these beautiful works created by the hand of man.

I sought them greedily, and ferreted them out indefatigably,

and I have been able to bring together some objects of great value.

These are my last souvenirs of that world which is dead to me.

In my eyes, your modern artists are already old; they have two or

three thousand years of existence; I confound them in my own mind.

Masters have no age."

{4 paragraphs seem to be missing from this omnibus text here they

have to do with musical composers, a piano, and a brief revery

on the part of Nemo}

Under elegant glass cases, fixed by copper rivets, were classed

and labelled the most precious productions of the sea

which had ever been presented to the eye of a naturalist.

My delight as a professor may be conceived.

{2 long paragraphs seem to be missing from this omnibus here}

Apart, in separate compartments, were spread out chaplets of pearls

of the greatest beauty, which reflected the electric light in little

sparks of fire; pink pearls, torn from the pinna-marina of the Red Sea;

green pearls, yellow, blue, and black pearls, the curious productions

of the divers molluscs of every ocean, and certain mussels of the water

courses of the North; lastly, several specimens of inestimable value.

Some of these pearls were larger than a pigeon's egg, and were worth millions.

{this para has been altered the last sentence reworded}

Therefore, to estimate the value of this collection was simply impossible.

Captain Nemo must have expended millions in the acquirement of these

various specimens, and I was thinking what source he could have drawn from,

to have been able thus to gratify his fancy for collecting, when I was

interrupted by these words:

"You are examining my shells, Professor? Unquestionably they must be

interesting to a naturalist; but for me they have a far greater charm,

for I have collected them all with my own hand, and there is not a sea

on the face of the globe which has escaped my researches."

"I can understand, Captain, the delight of wandering about in the midst

of such riches. You are one of those who have collected their

treasures themselves. No museum in Europe possesses such a collection

of the produce of the ocean. But if I exhaust all my admiration

upon it, I shall have none left for the vessel which carries it.

I do not wish to pry into your secrets: but I must confess

that this Nautilus, with the motive power which is confined in it,

the contrivances which enable it to be worked, the powerful agent

which propels it, all excite my curiosity to the highest pitch.

I see suspended on the walls of this room instruments of whose use

I am ignorant."

"You will find these same instruments in my own room, Professor,

where I shall have much pleasure in explaining their use to you.

But first come and inspect the cabin which is set apart for your own use.

You must see how you will be accommodated on board the Nautilus."

I followed Captain Nemo who, by one of the doors opening

from each panel of the drawing-room, regained the waist.

He conducted me towards the bow, and there I found, not a cabin,

but an elegant room, with a bed, dressing-table, and several other

pieces of excellent furniture.

I could only thank my host.

"Your room adjoins mine," said he, opening a door, "and mine

opens into the drawing-room that we have just quitted."

I entered the Captain's room: it had a severe, almost a monkish aspect.

A small iron bedstead, a table, some articles for the toilet; the whole

lighted by a skylight. No comforts, the strictest necessaries only.

Captain Nemo pointed to a seat.

"Be so good as to sit down," he said. I seated myself,

and he began thus:



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