The Mysterious Island: The Secret of the Island

Chapter XVII

Captain Nemo's last hours—The wishes of the dying man—A souvenir to his friends of a day—Captain Nemo's coffin—Some advice to the colonists—The supreme moment—At the bottom of the sea.

Day returned. No rays of light penetrated into this deep crypt. High tide obstructed the opening at the moment. But the artificial light which escaped in a long beam over the sides of the Nautilus was not feeble and the sheet of water around the floating apparatus was always aglow.

An extreme fatigue then overcame Captain Nemo and he fell back on the divan. There was no thought of carrying him to Granite House because he had declared his desire to remain among the Nautilus’ marvels which millions could not pay for, awaiting death which would not be long in coming.

During the rather long prostration which kept him nearly unconscious, Cyrus Smith and Gideon Spilett carefully observed the patient’s condition. It was obvious that the captain was slowly dying. There was no strength left in this formerly robust body, now the frail envelope of a soul about to escape. All life was concentrated in the heart and in the head.

The engineer and the reporter spoke in low tones. Was there something they could do for the dying man? Could they, if not save him, at least prolong his life for a few days? He himself had said that there was no remedy and he quietly waited for the death which he did not fear.

“Can we do nothing?” said Gideon Spilett.

“But what is he dying of?” asked Pencroff.

“He is expiring,” replied the reporter.

“However,” replied the sailor, “if we carry him to the open air in full sunlight, perhaps he will revive?”

“No, Pencroff,” replied the engineer, “we must not try anything! Besides, Captain Nemo would not consent to leave his vessel. He has lived on board the Nautilus for thirty years and it is on the Nautilus that he wishes to die.”

Doubtless Captain Nemo heard Cyrus Smith’s reply because he got up a little and in a feeble but ever intelligent voice:

“You are right, sir,” he said. “I must and I wish to die here. Also I have a favor to ask of you.”

Cyrus Smith and his companions drew close to the divan and arranged the cushions so as to best support the dying man.

They could see that his attention was directed toward all the marvels of the salon, lighted by the electric rays which softened the arabesques of an illuminated ceiling. He looked, one after the other, at the paintings hanging from the splendid wall tapestries, these masterpieces of the Italian, Flemish, French and Spanish masters, the miniatures of marble and of bronze which were mounted on their pedestals, the magnificent organ against the rear wall, then the glass cases arranged around a central fountain in which were blooming the most admirable products of the sea, marine plants, zoophytes and strings of pearl of priceless value. Finally he looked at the motto inscribed on the fronton of this museum, the motto of the Nautilus

Mobilis in mobili.

It seemed that for one last time he wanted to caress with his eyes these masterpieces of art and of nature which had limited his horizon for so many years in the abyss of the seas.

Cyrus Smith respected Captain Nemo’s silence. He waited for the dying man to speak again.

After a few moments during which he doubtless reviewed his entire life, Captain Nemo turned toward the colonists and said to them:

“You feel, gentlemen, that you are indebted to me?...”

“Captain, we would give our lives to prolong yours!”

“Good,” replied Captain Nemo, “good!... Promise me that you will carry out my last wishes and I will be repaid for all that I have done for you.”

“We promise you that,” replied Cyrus Smith.

And with this promise he was obligating his companions as well as himself.

“Gentlemen,” replied the captain, “tomorrow I will die.”

With a sign, he stopped Herbert, who wanted to protest.

“Tomorrow I will die and I desire to have no other tomb than that of the Nautilus. For me it is my coffin. All my friends repose at the bottom of the sea. I wish to repose there also.”

Captain Nemo’s words were received in deep silence.

“Here me well, gentlemen,” he continued. “The Nautilus is imprisoned in this grotto whose entrance has been raised. But if it cannot leave its prison, it can at least be swallowed up by the abyss which will cover and protect my mortal remains.”

The colonists listened religiously to the words of the dying man.

“Tomorrow after my death, Mister Smith,” continued the captain, “you and your companions, you will leave the Nautilus because all the riches which it contains must disappear with me. One souvenir only will remain for you of Prince Dakkar whose history you now know. This chest... there... contains several millions in diamonds, for the most part souvenirs from a time when, as father and husband, I almost believed in happiness, and it contains a collection of pearls gathered by my friends and myself from the bottom of the sea. With this treasure, you will be able to do good deeds one day. In the hands of people like you and your companions, Mr. Smith, money will not be a danger. I will be up there, associated with your deeds, and I have no fears about that.”

This chest... there... contains several millions...

After resting a few moments because of his extreme weakness, the captain continued in these terms:

“Tomorrow you will take this chest, you will leave the salon and close the door; then you will climb up to the platform of the Nautilus and you will push down the hood which you will fasten by means of its bolts.”

“We will do that, Captain,” replied Cyrus Smith.

“Good. You will then get into the boat that brought you here. But before abandoning the Nautilus, go to the rear and there open two large watercocks which are on the water line. The water will penetrate into the reservoirs and the Nautilus will sink little by little under the water and come to rest at the bottom of the abyss.”

And, on a gesture from Cyrus Smith, the captain added:

“Fear nothing! You will only be burying a dead man!”

Neither Cyrus Smith nor any of his companions thought of saying anything to Captain Nemo. He had made his last wishes known and they would carry them out.

“I have your promise, gentlemen?” added Captain Nemo.

“You have it, Captain,” replied the engineer.

The captain made a sign of thanks and asked the colonists to leave him alone for a few hours. Gideon Spilett wanted to remain by his side in case a crisis came on, but the dying man refused, saying:

“I will live until tomorrow, sir.”

All left the salon, crossed the library and the dining room, and went forward to the engine room where the electrical apparatus was installed which furnished the mechanical force for the Nautilus as well as its heat and light.

The Nautilus was a masterpiece which contained masterpieces and the engineer was amazed.

The colonists climbed to the platform which was seven or eight feet above the water. There they stretched out near a thick double convex lens which sealed a sort of large eye from which a shower of light shot out. Behind this eye was a cabin which housed the wheel of the helm from whence the helmsman steered the Nautilus through the waters, with the electric rays lighting the way for a considerable distance.

Cyrus Smith and his companions remained silent at first because they were vividly impressed with all they had seen and heard and their hearts were touched when they thought of him whose hands had helped them so many times, that this protector whom they had barely known for a few hours would be dead the next day.

What judgement would be pronounced by posterity on the acts of this person who was, so to speak, extra-human. Prince Dakkar would always remain one of those strange people who could not be forgotten.

“That is a man!” said Pencroff. “Did he really live this way at the bottom of the ocean! And I think that perhaps he did not find any more tranquillity there than elsewhere.”

“The Nautilus,” Ayrton then noted, “could perhaps enable us to leave Lincoln Island and reach some inhabited land.”

“Curses!” shouted Pencroff, “I would never risk a trip in such a boat. Sail on the seas, good! but under the seas, no!”

“I think,” replied the reporter, “that it would be very easy to maneuver a submarine device such as the Nautilus, Pencroff, and that you would soon get used to it. No storms or collisions to fear. A few feet below the surface of the ocean the water is as calm as in a lake.”

“Possibly,” retorted the sailor, “but I much prefer a good wind aboard a well rigged vessel. A boat is made to sail on the seas, not under it.”

“My friends,” replied the engineer, “it is useless, at least as it concerns the Nautilus, to discuss this question of submarine vessels. The Nautilus is not ours and we have no right to use it. Besides, it could not serve us in any case. It cannot leave this cavern whose entrance is now blocked by a rise in the basaltic rocks. Captain Nemo wants it to sink with him after his death. His will is explicit and we will execute it.”

Cyrus Smith and his companions, after a conversation which was prolonged a while longer, again descended inside the Nautilus. There they took some nourishment and again entered the salon.

Captain Nemo had come out of this prostration that had overwhelmed him and his eyes had regained their brilliance. They saw something of a smile on his lips.

The colonists approached him.

“Gentlemen,” the captain said to them, “you are courageous men, honest and good. You are all devoted, without reservation, to your common goal. I have often observed you. I like you, I like you!... Your hand, Mister Smith!”

Cyrus Smith offered his hand to the captain who seized it affectionately.

“That is good!” he murmured.

Then, continuing:

“But enough about me! I must speak about you and about Lincoln Island on which you have found refuge... You count on leaving it?”

“To return to it, captain,” Pencroff vividly replied.

“To return to it?... In fact, Pencroff,” replied the captain smiling, “I know how much you love this island. It has been changed by your cares and it truly belongs to you.”

“Our plan, captain,” Cyrus Smith then said, “would be to turn it over to the United States and to establish a port of call here for our navy, which fortunately is situated in this part of the Pacific.”

“You think of your country, gentlemen,” replied the captain. “You work for its prosperity, for its glory. You are right. One’s land!... It is there that one must return! It is there that one should die!... And I, I die far from all that I have loved!”

“Do you have some last wish to convey,” asked the engineer vividly, “some souvenir to give to friends that you have left in the mountains of India?”

“No, Mister Smith. I no longer have friends! I am the last of my race... and I die long after all those I have known... But to return to you. Solitude and isolation are sad things, beyond human endurance... I die for having believed that one could live alone!... You must then do everything to leave Lincoln Island and see your native land again. I know that those wretches destroyed the boat that you made...”

“We are building a vessel,” said Gideon Spilett, “a vessel large enough to take us to the nearest lands; but if we succeed in leaving sooner or later, we will return to Lincoln Island. Too many memories bind us here to ever forget it!”

“It is here that we have known Captain Nemo,” said Cyrus Smith.

“It is here that we will find your memory intact!” added Herbert.

“And it is here that I will rest in eternal sleep if...,” replied the captain.

He hesitated and instead of finishing his sentence he was content to say:

“Mister Smith, I wish to speak to you... to you alone!”

The engineer’s companions, respecting this desire of the dying man, withdrew.

Cyrus Smith remained alone with Captain Nemo for only a few minutes and he soon called his friends back but he said nothing to them of the secret things which the dying man had wished to confide in him.

Gideon Spilett then observed the patient carefully. It was evident that the captain was no longer sustained by his moral energy which soon would not react against his physical weakness.

The day ended without any change manifesting itself. The colonists did not leave the Nautilus for an instant. Night came on, although it was impossible to know it in this crypt.

Captain Nemo did not suffer but was weakening. His noble figure, pale at the approach of death, was calm. At times nearly imperceptible words escaped his lips, recalling various incidents of his strange existence. They felt life leaving his body little by little. His extremities were already cold.

He still spoke once or twice to the colonists gathered near him and he smiled at them with the last smile that continues just into death.

Finally, a little after midnight, Captain Nemo made a supreme movement and he succeeded in crossing his arms on his chest as if he wanted to die in this position.

About one o’clock in the morning, all life was concentrated only in his look. One last flash shown under these pupils from whence so many flames had formerly spouted. Then, murmuring these words: “God and country!” he quietly expired.

Cyrus Smith then leaned over and closed the eyes of he who had been Prince Dakkar and who was no longer even Captain Nemo.

Herbert and Pencroff cried. Ayrton furtively wiped away a tear. Neb was on his knees near the reporter, transformed into a statue.

Cyrus Smith, raising his hand above the dead man’s head:

Cyrus Smith, raising his hand...

“May God receive his soul!” he said, and turning again to his friends, he added:

“Let us pray for him whom we have lost!” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A few hours later the colonists fulfilled the promise made to the captain. They carried out the last wishes of the dying man.

Cyrus Smith and his companions left the Nautilus after taking the only souvenir which their benefactor had bequeathed to them, this coffer which enclosed a hundred fortunes.

The marvelous salon, always flooded with light, was carefully closed. The iron plate door of the hatchway was then bolted so that not a drop of water could penetrate into the interior rooms of the Nautilus.

Then the colonists descended to the boat which was moored to the side of the submarine vessel.

The boat was moved to the rear. There, at the water line, were two large cocks which were associated with the reservoirs designed to control the immersion of the apparatus.

These cocks were opened, the reservoirs were filled and the Nautilus, sinking little by little, disappeared under the surface of the water.

The Nautilus sinking little by little...

But the colonists could still follow it through the deep layers. Its powerful beam lit up the transparent water while the crypt began to grow dark. Then this huge outpouring of electrical radiation finally died out and soon the Nautilus became the coffin of Captain Nemo and reposed at the bottom of the sea.

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Translation Copyright © 1992 Sidney Kravitz
Copyright © Zvi Har’El
$Date: 2007/12/23 17:44:41 $