CHAPTER 5: At Random!
"Bah!" he replied. "Nothing's out there, Professor Aronnax,
and if there is some animal, what chance would we have of spotting it?
Can't you see we're just wandering around at random? People say
they've sighted this slippery beast again in the Pacific high seas--
I'm truly willing to believe it, but two months have already gone
by since then, and judging by your narwhale's personality, it hates
growing moldy from hanging out too long in the same waterways!
It's blessed with a terrific gift for getting around.
Now, professor, you know even better than I that nature doesn't
violate good sense, and she wouldn't give some naturally slow animal
the ability to move swiftly if it hadn't a need to use that talent.
So if the beast does exist, it's already long gone!"
I had no reply to this. Obviously we were just groping blindly.
But how else could we go about it? All the same, our chances were
automatically pretty limited. Yet everyone still felt confident
of success, and not a sailor on board would have bet against
the narwhale appearing, and soon.
On July 20 we cut the Tropic of Capricorn at longitude 105
degrees, and by the 27th of the same month, we had cleared
the equator on the 110th meridian. These bearings determined,
the frigate took a more decisive westward heading and tackled
the seas of the central Pacific. Commander Farragut felt,
and with good reason, that it was best to stay in deep waters and
keep his distance from continents or islands, whose neighborhoods
the animal always seemed to avoid--"No doubt," our bosun said,
"because there isn't enough water for him!" So the frigate kept
well out when passing the Tuamotu, Marquesas, and Hawaiian Islands,
then cut the Tropic of Cancer at longitude 132 degrees and headed
for the seas of China.
We were finally in the area of the monster's latest antics!
And in all honesty, shipboard conditions became life-threatening.
Hearts were pounding hideously, gearing up for futures full
of incurable aneurysms. The entire crew suffered from a nervous
excitement that it's beyond me to describe. Nobody ate, nobody slept.
Twenty times a day some error in perception, or the optical
illusions of some sailor perched in the crosstrees, would cause
intolerable anguish, and this emotion, repeated twenty times over,
kept us in a state of irritability so intense that a reaction was
bound to follow.