Stage 3 (Journeyman): Twenty thousand leagues under the sea, chapter 2


Author: Jules Vernes 

Retold by Kyle Tran 

CHAPTER 2:  MOBILIS IN MOBILI                                                     

Fathoms(1) under the sea surface, there was a very intense but inexplicable glow that several captains had mentioned in their reports. And as I noticed the frightful, clear-cut movements below us, I shouted terrifyingly, alarming the whole crew of the approaching danger:

“Look! Look! It’s shifting! It’s moving back and forth! It’s darting at us”


Right then Commander Farragut ordered to reverse the engines, and helm hard to leeward(2). Under reverse steam, the Abraham Lincoln moved to the left, sweeping in a semicircle and swiftly retreating from the core of light. The frigate(3)’s maneuvers were astonishing. However, it was fleeing, not flying; built to pursue, it was being pursued, and I commented on this to Commander Farragut. He was stamped with indescribable astonishment, announcing that we would retreat and attack the beast the next morning.


At eight o’clock, just as on the previous evening, Ned Land’s voice was audible.

“There’s the thing in question, astern to port!”


With violent quivers(4), a mile and a half from the frigate, a long blackish body emerged a meter above the waves. Suddenly, the thing shot off two jets of water into the air, signaling that it was ready for battle. Commander Farragut gave the order for full steam ahead. We were dashing towards the beast. And as we approached the thing, it retreated, dragging us into a chase that lasted until 11 o’clock when it took an unexpected rest. Just then, leaning over the forecastle railing, I saw Ned Land below me, barely twenty feet between him and the motionless animal. All at once his arm shot forward and the harpoon was launched. I heard the weapon collided, as if it had hit some hard substance. Suddenly, the electric lights went out and two enormous waterspouts crashed onto the deck of the frigate. It was a hideous collision, and I was hurled into the sea.


… I was sinking! I was suffocating!

“Help! Help! Help!”

I shouted, quite appalled as I became conscious of the fact that I was surrounded by nothing but the sea. My mouth was filling with water. I struggled against being dragged into the depths…

Suddenly my clothes were seized by energetic hands, I felt myself pulled abruptly back to the surface of the sea. It was Conceil! The fine lad was not thrown overboard because of the collision, but still, decided to follow me. Conseil told me the propeller(5) and the rudder(6) of our frigate were smashed, and the ship could no longer steer. We were now on our own and our only hope was the frigate’s boat so we decided to keep on swimming, swimming, and swimming, … but nothing was in our sight. Nothing.

Near one o’clock in the morning, I was overcome with tremendous exhaustion. I could hear Conseil grasping as he exclaimed his last shouts for help. And we listened, waiting for an unlikely reply.


This time there could be no mistake! A human voice had answered us! We were heading towards it. Conseil constantly shouted requests for directions, which was answered by a voice that was getting closer and closer. But I could barely hear it. I was at the end of my strength; my mouth opened convulsively(7), filling with brine(8); its coldness ran through me; I raised my head one last time, then I collapsed…


As I half-opened my eyes, I spotted a face that was not Conseil’s. It was Ned! Ned Land! He was the one replying our call for help! He was also thrown overboard after the collision; however, luckier than I was, he was able to set foot on a floating islet- or in other words, the gigantic “narwhale”. It was only at this moment that I realized the gigantic narwhale that I had proclaimed to exist, publicly, was man made, or more specifically, a vessel.


And as we were standing on top of it, still stunned by the realization that the thing was not an animal, from inside the boat, there came noises of iron fastenings pushed roughly aside. One of the steel plates flew up, a man appeared, gave a bizarre yell, and instantly disappeared.

A few moments later, eight strapping fellows appeared silently, their faces like masks, and dragged us down into their fearsome machine.

The capture was executed with lightning speed, and soon we were in a pitch black cell, perhaps a boiler as suggested by Ned. We were alone, frightened by the peculiarity of this occurrence. All was darkness, but such utter darkness that after several minutes, my eyes were still unable to catch a single one of those hazy gleams that drift through even the blackest nights. Suddenly, our prison lit up all at once as if a magnificent phosphorescent phenomenon had just taken place, I barely opened my eyes. Standing there, between the doors, were two men: One was short and stocky; the other was slim, with dark, piercing eyes, and dominant figures which aroused me very much. The two were communicating in an odd and utterly incomprehensible language. After examining each of us carefully, without saying a word, the two gentlemen left. And the door was closed again.


After a while, a steward entered our room. He brought us some clothes, jackets and

sailor’s pants. I hurriedly changed, and my companion followed suit. He then set up a dining table, and served us dinner. Right after that, Ned Land and Conseil, exhausted from all the events that took place through the entire day, passed out. However, although I was fatigued, the irregularity of these events recently rendered me sleepless. And there was one particular thing I noticed during the dinner. Each utensil, spoon, fork, knife, and plate, bore on its reverse a letter encircled by a Latin motto, and here is its exact duplicate: MOBILIS IN MOBILI N- Moving within the moving elements. The letter “N” perhaps was the initial letter of the name of the mystifying individual in command of this queer vessel.


I was the first to wake up. My companions weren’t yet stirring and still lay in their corners like inanimate objects. The lights were on, giving me the chance to observe the room carefully. After a while, I noticed that above the door opened an air vent that let in a fresh current of oxygen,

renewing the thin air in our cell. Also, I was determined that the vessel must rise to the sea surface to take in oxygen, similar to the mechanism of cetacean(9) animals. Just then, Conseil and Ned woke up, interrupting my observation. Then we argued about the best course of action.

Conseil and I both agreed on being patient, wait and see what would happen. However, Ned tried to convince us to either escape or take over the vessel, which was a preposterous(10) idea. Yet, Conseil and I were able to stop him from his impractical plan, and calmed him down from his anger. When our argument was settled, there were noises outside. Footsteps rang on the metal tiling(11). The locks were turned, the door opened, the steward appeared. Followed him was a gentleman, and I was abruptly nailed to the spot by these words pronounced in French:

“Calm down Mr Land! And you, and the professor kindly listen to me!”


It was the ship’s Commander who had just spoken.


“Gentlemen,” he said in a calm, penetrating voice, “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(12) of Canadian origin aboard the Abraham Lincoln, a frigate in the national navy of the United States of America. 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. I have a right to treat you as my enemy. However, I concluded that my personal interests could be reconciled with that natural compassion to which every human being has a right; and as I mentioned, it was only sheer chance that the three of you are here, aboard the Nautilus. Since fate has brought you here, you’ll stay aboard my vessel. You’ll be free here, and in exchange for that freedom, moreover totally related to it, I’ll lay on you just one condition. Your word that you’ll submit to it will be sufficient. Well, it’s possible that certain unforeseen events may force me to confine you to your cabins for some hours, or even for some days as the case may be. Since I prefer never to use violence, I expect from you in such a case, even more than in any other, your unquestioning obedience. Do you accept this condition?”


“We accept”- I replied


“I’ve heard of you professor Aronnax. You won’t regret the time you spend aboard my vessel. You’re going to voyage through a land of wonders. Stunned amazement will probably be your habitual state of mind. It will be a long while before you tire of the sights constantly before your eyes. I’m going to make another underwater tour of the world—perhaps my last, who knows?—. Starting this very day, you’ll enter a new element, you’ll see what no human being has ever seen before, and thanks to me, you’re going to learn the ultimate secrets of our planet. Now, professor, if you’d like to inspect the Nautilus, I’m yours to command.”



1/ fathom (n): a unit of length equal to six feet (1.8 meters):used chiefly in nautical measurements

2/leeward (n): pertaining to, situated in, or moving toward the quarter toward which the wind blows

3/frigate (n): a fast naval vessel of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, generally having a lofty ship rig and heavily armed on one or two decks.

4/quiver (v): tremble

5/propeller (n): a device having a revolving hub with radiating blades, for propelling an airplane, ship, etc.

6/rudder (n): a vertical blade at the stern of a vessel that can be turned horizontally to change the vessel’s direction when in motion

7/convulsive (adj): spontaneous

8/brine (n): water saturated or strongly impregnated with salt.

9/cetacean(n): marine mammals, eg. dolphins, whales

10/preposterous (adj): outlandish, bizzare

tiling(n): covering a surface with thin slab or bent piece of baked clay, sometimes painted or glazed

10/harpooner (n): a barbed, spearlike missile attached to a rope, andthrown by hand or shot from a gun, used forkilling and capturing whales and large fish.


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