CHAPTER 20: In Latitude 47 degrees 24' and Longitude 17 degrees 28'
IN THE AFTERMATH of this storm, we were thrown back to the east.
Away went any hope of
escaping to the landing places of New York or the St. Lawrence.
In despair, poor Ned went into seclusion like Captain Nemo. Conseil and
I no longer left each other.
As I said, the Nautilus veered to the east. To be more accurate,
I should have said to the northeast. Sometimes on the surface
of the waves, sometimes beneath them, the ship wandered for days
amid these mists so feared by navigators. These are caused
chiefly by melting ice, which keeps the air extremely damp.
How many ships have perished in these waterways as they
tried to get directions from the hazy lights on the coast!
How many casualties have been caused by these opaque mists!
How many collisions have occurred with these reefs,
where the breaking surf is covered by the noise of the wind!
How many vessels have rammed each other, despite their running lights,
despite the warnings given by their bosun's pipes and alarm bells!
So the floor of this sea had the appearance of a battlefield where every
ship defeated by the ocean still lay, some already old and encrusted,
others newer and reflecting our beacon light on their ironwork
and copper undersides. Among these vessels, how many went down with
all hands, with their crews and hosts of immigrants, at these trouble
spots so prominent in the statistics: Cape Race, St. Paul Island,
the Strait of Belle Isle, the St. Lawrence estuary!
And in only a few years, how many victims have been furnished to
the obituary notices by the Royal Mail, Inman, and Montreal lines;
by vessels named the Solway, the Isis, the Paramatta, the Hungarian,
the Canadian, the Anglo-Saxon, the Humboldt, and the United States,
all run aground; by the Arctic and the Lyonnais, sunk in collisions;
by the President, the Pacific, and the City of Glasgow,
lost for reasons unknown; in the midst of their gloomy rubble,
the Nautilus navigated as if passing the dead in review!
By May 15 we were off the southern tip of the Grand Banks
of Newfoundland. These banks are the result of marine sedimentation,
an extensive accumulation of organic waste brought either from
the equator by the Gulf Stream's current, or from the North Pole
by the countercurrent of cold water that skirts the American coast.
Here, too, erratically drifting chunks collect from the ice breakup.
Here a huge boneyard forms from fish, mollusks, and zoophytes dying
over it by the billions.