Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
The Underwater Coalfields
THE NEXT DAY, February 20, I overslept. I was so exhausted from the night before, I
didn't get up until eleven o'clock. I dressed quickly. I hurried to find out the Nautilus's
heading. The instruments indicated that it was running southward at a speed of twenty
miles per hour and a depth of 100 meters.
Conseil entered. I described our nocturnal excursion to him, and since the panels were
open, he could still catch a glimpse of this submerged continent.
In fact, the Nautilus was skimming only ten meters over the soil of these Atlantis plains.
The ship scudded along like an air balloon borne by the wind over some prairie on land;
but it would be more accurate to say that we sat in the lounge as if we were riding in a
coach on an express train. As for the foregrounds passing before our eyes, they were
fantastically carved rocks, forests of trees that had crossed over from the vegetable
kingdom into the mineral kingdom, their motionless silhouettes sprawling beneath the
waves. There also were stony masses buried beneath carpets of axidia and sea anemone,
bristling with long, vertical water plants, then strangely contoured blocks of lava that
testified to all the fury of those plutonic developments.
While this bizarre scenery was glittering under our electric beams, I told Conseil the story
of the Atlanteans, who had inspired the old French scientist Jean Bailly* to write so many
entertaining-- albeit utterly fictitious--pages. I told the lad about the wars of these heroic
people. I discussed the question of Atlantis with the fervor of a man who no longer had
any doubts. But Conseil was so distracted he barely heard me, and his lack of interest in
any commentary on this historical topic was soon explained.
In essence, numerous fish had caught his eye, and when fish pass by, Conseil vanishes
into his world of classifying and leaves real life behind. In which case I could only tag
along and resume our ichthyological research.
Even so, these Atlantic fish were not noticeably different from those we had observed
earlier. There were rays of gigantic size, five meters long and with muscles so powerful
they could leap above the waves, sharks of various species including a fifteen-foot
glaucous shark with sharp triangular teeth and so transparent it was almost invisible amid
the waters, brown lantern sharks, prism-shaped humantin sharks armored with
protuberant hides, sturgeons resembling their relatives in the Mediterranean, trumpet-
snouted pipefish a foot and a half long, yellowish brown with small gray fins and no teeth
or tongue, unreeling like slim, supple snakes.
Among bony fish, Conseil noticed some blackish marlin three meters long with a sharp
sword jutting from the upper jaw, bright-colored weevers known in Aristotle's day as sea
dragons and whose dorsal stingers make them quite dangerous to pick up, then
dolphinfish with brown backs striped in blue and edged in gold, handsome dorados,
moonlike opahs that look like azure disks but which the sun's rays turn into spots of
silver, finally eight-meter swordfish from the genus Xiphias, swimming in schools,