Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
As Master Wishes
THREE SECONDS before the arrival of J. B. Hobson's letter, I no more dreamed of
chasing the unicorn than of trying for the Northwest Passage. Three seconds after reading
this letter from the honorable Secretary of the Navy, I understood at last that my true
vocation, my sole purpose in life, was to hunt down this disturbing monster and rid the
world of it.
Even so, I had just returned from an arduous journey, exhausted and badly needing a rest.
I wanted nothing more than to see my country again, my friends, my modest quarters by
the Botanical Gardens, my dearly beloved collections! But now nothing could hold me
back. I forgot everything else, and without another thought of exhaustion, friends, or
collections, I accepted the American government's offer.
"Besides," I mused, "all roads lead home to Europe, and our unicorn may be gracious
enough to take me toward the coast of France! That fine animal may even let itself be
captured in European seas--as a personal favor to me--and I'll bring back to the Museum
of Natural History at least half a meter of its ivory lance!"
But in the meantime I would have to look for this narwhale in the northern Pacific Ocean;
which meant returning to France by way of the Antipodes.
"Conseil!" I called in an impatient voice.
Conseil was my manservant. A devoted lad who went with me on all my journeys; a
gallant Flemish boy whom I genuinely liked and who returned the compliment; a born
stoic, punctilious on principle, habitually hardworking, rarely startled by life's surprises,
very skillful with his hands, efficient in his every duty, and despite his having a name that
means "counsel," never giving advice-- not even the unsolicited kind!
From rubbing shoulders with scientists in our little universe by the Botanical Gardens, the
boy had come to know a thing or two. In Conseil I had a seasoned specialist in biological
classification, an enthusiast who could run with acrobatic agility up and down the whole
ladder of branches, groups, classes, subclasses, orders, families, genera, subgenera,
species, and varieties. But there his science came to a halt. Classifying was everything to
him, so he knew nothing else. Well versed in the theory of classification, he was poorly
versed in its practical application, and I doubt that he could tell a sperm whale from a
baleen whale! And yet, what a fine, gallant lad!
For the past ten years, Conseil had gone with me wherever science beckoned. Not once
did he comment on the length or the hardships of a journey. Never did he object to
buckling up his suitcase for any country whatever, China or the Congo, no matter how far
off it was. He went here, there, and everywhere in perfect contentment. Moreover, he
enjoyed excellent health that defied all ailments, owned solid muscles, but hadn't a nerve
in him, not a sign of nerves-- the mental type, I mean.