CHAPTER 18: The Devilfish
So I begged Ned to let me think about it before taking action. If this
measure proved fruitless, it could arouse the captain's suspicions, make
our circumstances even more arduous, and jeopardize the Canadian's plans.
I might add that I could hardly use our state of health as an argument.
Except for that grueling ordeal under the Ice Bank at the South Pole,
we had never felt better, neither Ned, Conseil, nor I. The
nutritious food, life-giving air, regular routine, and uniform
temperature kept illness at bay; and for a man who didn't miss his
past existence on land, for a Captain Nemo who was at home here,
who went where he wished, who took paths mysterious to others if not
himself in attaining his ends, I could understand such a life.
But we ourselves hadn't severed all ties with humanity. For my part,
I didn't want my new and unusual research to be buried with my bones.
I had now earned the right to pen the definitive book on the sea,
and sooner or later I wanted that book to see the light of day.
There once more, through the panels opening into these Caribbean
waters ten meters below the surface of the waves, I found
so many fascinating exhibits to describe in my daily notes!
Among other zoophytes there were Portuguese men-of-war known by the name
Physalia pelagica, like big, oblong bladders with a pearly sheen,
spreading their membranes to the wind, letting their blue tentacles
drift like silken threads; to the eye delightful jellyfish,
to the touch actual nettles that ooze a corrosive liquid.
Among the articulates there were annelid worms one and a half
meters long, furnished with a pink proboscis, equipped with 1,700
organs of locomotion, snaking through the waters, and as they went,
throwing off every gleam in the solar spectrum. From the fish
branch there were manta rays, enormous cartilaginous fish ten
feet long and weighing 600 pounds, their pectoral fin triangular,
their midback slightly arched, their eyes attached to the edges
of the face at the front of the head; they floated like wreckage from
a ship, sometimes fastening onto our windows like opaque shutters.
There were American triggerfish for which nature has ground only black
and white pigments, feather-shaped gobies that were long and plump
with yellow fins and jutting jaws, sixteen-decimeter mackerel
with short, sharp teeth, covered with small scales, and related
to the albacore species. Next came swarms of red mullet corseted
in gold stripes from head to tail, their shining fins all aquiver,
genuine masterpieces of jewelry, formerly sacred to the goddess Diana,
much in demand by rich Romans, and about which the old saying goes:
"He who catches them doesn't eat them!" Finally, adorned with
emerald ribbons and dressed in velvet and silk, golden angelfish
passed before our eyes like courtiers in the paintings of Veronese;
spurred gilthead stole by with their swift thoracic fins; thread herring
fifteen inches long were wrapped in their phosphorescent glimmers;
gray mullet thrashed the sea with their big fleshy tails;
red salmon seemed to mow the waves with their slicing pectorals;
and silver moonfish, worthy of their name, rose on the horizon
of the waters like the whitish reflections of many moons.