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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
by Jules Verne

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I rushed on to the platform. Yes! the open sea, with but a few

scattered pieces of ice and moving icebergs--a long stretch of sea;

a world of birds in the air, and myriads of fishes under those waters,

which varied from intense blue to olive green, according to the bottom.

The thermometer marked 3@ C. above zero. It was comparatively spring,

shut up as we were behind this iceberg, whose lengthened mass was dimly

seen on our northern horizon.

"Are we at the pole?" I asked the Captain, with a beating heart.

"I do not know," he replied. "At noon I will take our bearings."

"But will the sun show himself through this fog?" said I,

looking at the leaden sky.

"However little it shows, it will be enough," replied the Captain.

About ten miles south a solitary island rose to a height

of one hundred and four yards. We made for it, but carefully,

for the sea might be strewn with banks. One hour afterwards we

had reached it, two hours later we had made the round of it.

It measured four or five miles in circumference.

A narrow canal separated it from a considerable stretch of land,

perhaps a continent, for we could not see its limits.

The existence of this land seemed to give some colour to Maury's theory.

The ingenious American has remarked that, between the South Pole

and the sixtieth parallel, the sea is covered with floating ice

of enormous size, which is never met with in the North Atlantic.

From this fact he has drawn the conclusion that the Antarctic

Circle encloses considerable continents, as icebergs cannot form

in open sea, but only on the coasts. According to these calculations,

the mass of ice surrounding the southern pole forms a vast cap,

the circumference of which must be, at least, 2,500 miles.

But the Nautilus, for fear of running aground, had stopped

about three cable-lengths from a strand over which reared

a superb heap of rocks. The boat was launched; the Captain,

two of his men, bearing instruments, Conseil, and myself were in it.

It was ten in the morning. I had not seen Ned Land.

Doubtless the Canadian did not wish to admit the presence of

the South Pole. A few strokes of the oar brought us to the sand,

where we ran ashore. Conseil was going to jump on to the land,

when I held him back.

"Sir," said I to Captain Nemo, "to you belongs the honour of first setting

foot on this land."

"Yes, sir," said the Captain, "and if I do not hesitate

to tread this South Pole, it is because, up to this time,

no human being has left a trace there."

Saying this, he jumped lightly on to the sand. His heart beat

with emotion. He climbed a rock, sloping to a little promontory,

and there, with his arms crossed, mute and motionless, and with an

eager look, he seemed to take possession of these southern regions.

After five minutes passed in this ecstasy, he turned to us.

"When you like, sir."

I landed, followed by Conseil, leaving the two men in the boat.

For a long way the soil was composed of a reddish sandy stone,

something like crushed brick, scoriae, streams of lava,

and pumice-stones. One could not mistake its volcanic origin.

In some parts, slight curls of smoke emitted a sulphurous smell,

proving that the internal fires had lost nothing of their

expansive powers, though, having climbed a high acclivity,

I could see no volcano for a radius of several miles.

We know that in those Antarctic countries, James Ross found

two craters, the Erebus and Terror, in full activity,

on the 167th meridian, latitude 77@ 32'. The vegetation

of this desolate continent seemed to me much restricted.

Some lichens lay upon the black rocks; some microscopic plants,

rudimentary diatomas, a kind of cells placed between two quartz shells;

long purple and scarlet weed, supported on little swimming bladders,

which the breaking of the waves brought to the shore.

These constituted the meagre flora of this region.

The shore was strewn with molluscs, little mussels, and limpets.

I also saw myriads of northern clios, one-and-a-quarter inches long,

of which a whale would swallow a whole world at a mouthful;

and some perfect sea-butterflies, animating the waters on the skirts

of the shore.

There appeared on the high bottoms some coral shrubs,

of the kind which, according to James Ross, live in

the Antarctic seas to the depth of more than 1,000 yards.

Then there were little kingfishers and starfish studding the soil.

But where life abounded most was in the air. There thousands

of birds fluttered and flew of all kinds, deafening us with

their cries; others crowded the rock, looking at us as we passed

by without fear, and pressing familiarly close by our feet.

There were penguins, so agile in the water, heavy and awkward

as they are on the ground; they were uttering harsh cries,

a large assembly, sober in gesture, but extravagant in clamour.

Albatrosses passed in the air, the expanse of their wings being

at least four yards and a half, and justly called the vultures

of the ocean; some gigantic petrels, and some damiers, a kind

of small duck, the underpart of whose body is black and white;

then there were a whole series of petrels, some whitish, with

brown-bordered wings, others blue, peculiar to the Antarctic seas,

and so oily, as I told Conseil, that the inhabitants of the Ferroe

Islands had nothing to do before lighting them but to put a wick in.

"A little more," said Conseil, "and they would be perfect lamps!

After that, we cannot expect Nature to have previously furnished

them with wicks!"

About half a mile farther on the soil was riddled with ruffs'

nests, a sort of laying-ground, out of which many birds were issuing.

Captain Nemo had some hundreds hunted. They uttered a cry like the braying

of an ass, were about the size of a goose, slate-colour on the body,

white beneath, with a yellow line round their throats; they allowed

themselves to be killed with a stone, never trying to escape.

But the fog did not lift, and at eleven the sun had not yet shown itself.

Its absence made me uneasy. Without it no observations were possible.

How, then, could we decide whether we had reached the pole? When I rejoined

Captain Nemo, I found him leaning on a piece of rock, silently watching

the sky. He seemed impatient and vexed. But what was to be done?

This rash and powerful man could not command the sun as he did the sea.

Noon arrived without the orb of day showing itself for an instant.

We could not even tell its position behind the curtain of fog; and soon

the fog turned to snow.

"Till to-morrow," said the Captain, quietly, and we returned

to the Nautilus amid these atmospheric disturbances.

The tempest of snow continued till the next day.

It was impossible to remain on the platform. From the saloon,

where I was taking notes of incidents happening during this

excursion to the polar continent, I could hear the cries of petrels

and albatrosses sporting in the midst of this violent storm.

The Nautilus did not remain motionless, but skirted the coast,

advancing ten miles more to the south in the half-light

left by the sun as it skirted the edge of the horizon.

The next day, the 20th of March, the snow had ceased.

The cold was a little greater, the thermometer showing 2@

below zero. The fog was rising, and I hoped that that day

our observations might be taken. Captain Nemo not having

yet appeared, the boat took Conseil and myself to land.

The soil was still of the same volcanic nature;

everywhere were traces of lava, scoriae, and basalt;

but the crater which had vomited them I could not see.

Here, as lower down, this continent was alive with myriads

of birds. But their rule was now divided with large troops

of sea-mammals, looking at us with their soft eyes.

There were several kinds of seals, some stretched on the earth,

some on flakes of ice, many going in and out of the sea. They did

not flee at our approach, never having had anything to do with man;

and I reckoned that there were provisions there for hundreds of vessels.

"Sir," said Conseil, "will you tell me the names of these creatures?"

"They are seals and morses."

It was now eight in the morning. Four hours remained to us before

the sun could be observed with advantage. I directed our steps

towards a vast bay cut in the steep granite shore. There, I can aver

that earth and ice were lost to sight by the numbers of sea- mammals

covering them, and I involuntarily sought for old Proteus,

the mythological shepherd who watched these immense flocks of Neptune.

There were more seals than anything else, forming distinct groups,

male and female, the father watching over his family, the mother

suckling her little ones, some already strong enough to go a few steps.

When they wished to change their place, they took little jumps,

made by the contraction of their bodies, and helped awkwardly enough

by their imperfect fin, which, as with the lamantin, their cousins,

forms a perfect forearm. I should say that, in the water,

which is their element--the spine of these creatures is flexible;

with smooth and close skin and webbed feet--they swim admirably.

In resting on the earth they take the most graceful attitudes.

Thus the ancients, observing their soft and expressive looks,

which cannot be surpassed by the most beautiful look a woman can give,

their clear voluptuous eyes, their charming positions, and the poetry

of their manners, metamorphosed them, the male into a triton and

the female into a mermaid. I made Conseil notice the considerable

development of the lobes of the brain in these interesting cetaceans.

No mammal, except man, has such a quantity of brain matter;

they are also capable of receiving a certain amount of education,

are easily domesticated, and I think, with other naturalists,

that if properly taught they would be of great service as fishing-dogs.

The greater part of them slept on the rocks or on the sand.

Amongst these seals, properly so called, which have no external ears

(in which they differ from the otter, whose ears are prominent),

I noticed several varieties of seals about three yards long,

with a white coat, bulldog heads, armed with teeth in both jaws,

four incisors at the top and four at the bottom, and two large

canine teeth in the shape of a fleur-de-lis. Amongst them glided

sea-elephants, a kind of seal, with short, flexible trunks.

The giants of this species measured twenty feet round and ten yards

and a half in length; but they did not move as we approached.

"These creatures are not dangerous?" asked Conseil.

"No; not unless you attack them. When they have to defend

their young their rage is terrible, and it is not uncommon

for them to break the fishing-boats to pieces."

"They are quite right," said Conseil.

"I do not say they are not."

Two miles farther on we were stopped by the promontory which shelters

the bay from the southerly winds. Beyond it we heard loud bellowings

such as a troop of ruminants would produce.

"Good!" said Conseil; "a concert of bulls!"

"No; a concert of morses."

"They are fighting!"

"They are either fighting or playing."

We now began to climb the blackish rocks, amid unforeseen stumbles,

and over stones which the ice made slippery. More than once I rolled

over at the expense of my loins. Conseil, more prudent or more steady,

did not stumble, and helped me up, saying:

"If, sir, you would have the kindness to take wider steps,

you would preserve your equilibrium better."

Arrived at the upper ridge of the promontory, I saw a vast white

plain covered with morses. They were playing amongst themselves,

and what we heard were bellowings of pleasure, not of anger.

As I passed these curious animals I could examine them leisurely,

for they did not move. Their skins were thick and rugged,

of a yellowish tint, approaching to red; their hair was short

and scant. Some of them were four yards and a quarter long.

Quieter and less timid than their cousins of the north, they did not,

like them, place sentinels round the outskirts of their encampment.

After examining this city of morses, I began to think of returning.

It was eleven o'clock, and, if Captain Nemo found the conditions

favourable for observations, I wished to be present at the operation.

We followed a narrow pathway running along the summit of the steep shore.

At half-past eleven we had reached the place where we landed.

The boat had run aground, bringing the Captain. I saw him standing on a block

of basalt, his instruments near him, his eyes fixed on the northern horizon,

near which the sun was then describing a lengthened curve. I took my place

beside him, and waited without speaking. Noon arrived, and, as before,

the sun did not appear. It was a fatality. Observations were still wanting.

If not accomplished to-morrow, we must give up all idea of taking any.

We were indeed exactly at the 20th of March. To-morrow, the 21st,

would be the equinox; the sun would disappear behind the horizon for

six months, and with its disappearance the long polar night would begin.

Since the September equinox it had emerged from the northern horizon,

rising by lengthened spirals up to the 21st of December. At this period,

the summer solstice of the northern regions, it had begun to descend;

and to-morrow was to shed its last rays upon them. I communicated my fears

and observations to Captain Nemo.

"You are right, M. Aronnax," said he; "if to-morrow I cannot take

the altitude of the sun, I shall not be able to do it for six months.

But precisely because chance has led me into these seas on the 21st

of March, my bearings will be easy to take, if at twelve we can

see the sun."

"Why, Captain?"

"Because then the orb of day described such lengthened curves that it

is difficult to measure exactly its height above the horizon,

and grave errors may be made with instruments."

"What will you do then?"

"I shall only use my chronometer," replied Captain Nemo.

"If to-morrow, the 21st of March, the disc of the sun,

allowing for refraction, is exactly cut by the northern horizon,

it will show that I am at the South Pole."

"Just so," said I. "But this statement is not mathematically correct,

because the equinox does not necessarily begin at noon."

"Very likely, sir; but the error will not be a hundred yards

and we do not want more. Till to-morrow, then!"

Captain Nemo returned on board. Conseil and I remained to survey

the shore, observing and studying until five o'clock. Then I

went to bed, not, however, without invoking, like the Indian,

the favour of the radiant orb. The next day, the 21st

of March, at five in the morning, I mounted the platform.

I found Captain Nemo there.

"The weather is lightening a little," said he. "I have some hope.

After breakfast we will go on shore and choose a post for observation."

That point settled, I sought Ned Land. I wanted to take him with me.

But the obstinate Canadian refused, and I saw that his taciturnity and his

bad humour grew day by day. After all, I was not sorry for his obstinacy

under the circumstances. Indeed, there were too many seals on shore,

and we ought not to lay such temptation in this unreflecting fisherman's way.

Breakfast over, we went on shore. The Nautilus had gone some miles

further up in the night. It was a whole league from the coast,

above which reared a sharp peak about five hundred yards high.

The boat took with me Captain Nemo, two men of the crew, and the instruments,

which consisted of a chronometer, a telescope, and a barometer.

While crossing, I saw numerous whales belonging to the three kinds

peculiar to the southern seas; the whale, or the English "right whale,"

which has no dorsal fin; the "humpback," with reeved chest and large,

whitish fins, which, in spite of its name, do not form wings;

and the fin-back, of a yellowish brown, the liveliest of all the cetacea.

This powerful creature is heard a long way off when he throws to a great

height columns of air and vapour, which look like whirlwinds of smoke.

These different mammals were disporting themselves in troops in the

quiet waters; and I could see that this basin of the Antarctic Pole serves

as a place of refuge to the cetacea too closely tracked by the hunters.

I also noticed large medusae floating between the reeds.

At nine we landed; the sky was brightening, the clouds were flying to

the south, and the fog seemed to be leaving the cold surface of the waters.

Captain Nemo went towards the peak, which he doubtless meant

to be his observatory. It was a painful ascent over the sharp lava

and the pumice-stones, in an atmosphere often impregnated with a

sulphurous smell from the smoking cracks. For a man unaccustomed

to walk on land, the Captain climbed the steep slopes with an

agility I never saw equalled and which a hunter would have envied.

We were two hours getting to the summit of this peak, which was half

porphyry and half basalt. From thence we looked upon a vast sea which,

towards the north, distinctly traced its boundary line upon the sky.

At our feet lay fields of dazzling whiteness. Over our heads

a pale azure, free from fog. To the north the disc of the sun seemed

like a ball of fire, already horned by the cutting of the horizon.

From the bosom of the water rose sheaves of liquid jets by hundreds.

In the distance lay the Nautilus like a cetacean asleep on the water.

Behind us, to the south and east, an immense country and a chaotic

heap of rocks and ice, the limits of which were not visible.

On arriving at the summit Captain Nemo carefully took the mean height

of the barometer, for he would have to consider that in taking

his observations. At a quarter to twelve the sun, then seen only

by refraction, looked like a golden disc shedding its last rays upon

this deserted continent and seas which never man had yet ploughed.

Captain Nemo, furnished with a lenticular glass which, by means

of a mirror, corrected the refraction, watched the orb sinking

below the horizon by degrees, following a lengthened diagonal.

I held the chronometer. My heart beat fast. If the disappearance of

the half-disc of the sun coincided with twelve o'clock on the chronometer,

we were at the pole itself.

"Twelve!" I exclaimed.

"The South Pole!" replied Captain Nemo, in a grave voice,

handing me the glass, which showed the orb cut in exactly equal

parts by the horizon.

I looked at the last rays crowning the peak, and the shadows

mounting by degrees up its slopes. At that moment Captain Nemo,

resting with his hand on my shoulder, said:

"I, Captain Nemo, on this 21st day of March, 1868, have reached the South Pole

on the ninetieth degree; and I take possession of this part of the globe,

equal to one-sixth of the known continents."

"In whose name, Captain?"

"In my own, sir!"

Saying which, Captain Nemo unfurled a black banner, bearing an "N"

in gold quartered on its bunting. Then, turning towards the orb of day,

whose last rays lapped the horizon of the sea, he exclaimed:

"Adieu, sun! Disappear, thou radiant orb! rest beneath this open sea,

and let a night of six months spread its shadows over my new domains!"



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