Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
The Man of the Waters
IT WAS THE ship's commander who had just spoken.
At these words Ned Land stood up quickly. Nearly strangled, the steward staggered out at
a signal from his superior; but such was the commander's authority aboard his vessel, not
one gesture gave away the resentment that this man must have felt toward the Canadian.
In silence we waited for the outcome of this scene; Conseil, in spite of himself, seemed
almost fascinated, I was stunned.
Arms crossed, leaning against a corner of the table, the commander studied us with great
care. Was he reluctant to speak further? Did he regret those words he had just pronounced
in French? You would have thought so.
After a few moments of silence, which none of us would have dreamed of interrupting:
"Gentlemen," he said in a calm, penetrating voice, "I speak French, English, German, and
Latin with equal fluency. Hence I could have answered you as early as our initial
interview, but first I wanted to make your acquaintance and then think things over. Your
four versions of the same narrative, perfectly consistent by and large, established your
personal identities for me. I now know that sheer chance has placed in my presence
Professor Pierre Aronnax, specialist in natural history at the Paris Museum and entrusted
with a scientific mission abroad, his manservant Conseil, and Ned Land, a harpooner of
Canadian origin aboard the Abraham Lincoln, a frigate in the national navy of the United
States of America."
I bowed in agreement. The commander hadn't put a question to me. So no answer was
called for. This man expressed himself with perfect ease and without a trace of an accent.
His phrasing was clear, his words well chosen, his facility in elocution remarkable. And
yet, to me, he didn't have "the feel" of a fellow countryman.
He went on with the conversation as follows:
"No doubt, sir, you've felt that I waited rather too long before paying you this second
visit. After discovering your identities, I wanted to weigh carefully what policy to pursue
toward you. I had great difficulty deciding. Some extremely inconvenient circumstances
have brought you into the presence of a man who has cut himself off from humanity.
Your coming has disrupted my whole existence."
"Unintentionally," I said.
"Unintentionally?" the stranger replied, raising his voice a little. "Was it unintentionally
that the Abraham Lincoln hunted me on every sea? Was it unintentionally that you
traveled aboard that frigate? Was it unintentionally that your shells bounced off my ship's
hull? Was it unintentionally that Mr. Ned Land hit me with his harpoon?"