CHAPTER 10: The Man of the Waters
"Unintentionally," I said.
"Unintentionally?" the stranger replied, raising his voice a little.
"Was it unintentionally that the Abraham Lincoln hunted me on every sea?
Was it unintentionally that you traveled aboard that frigate?
Was it unintentionally that your shells bounced off my ship's hull?
Was it unintentionally that Mr. Ned Land hit me with his harpoon?"
I detected a controlled irritation in these words. But there was
a perfectly natural reply to these charges, and I made it.
"Sir," I said, "you're surely unaware of the discussions that have
taken place in Europe and America with yourself as the subject.
You don't realize that various accidents, caused by collisions with your
underwater machine, have aroused public passions on those two continents.
I'll spare you the innumerable hypotheses with which we've tried
to explain this inexplicable phenomenon, whose secret is yours alone.
But please understand that the Abraham Lincoln chased you over
the Pacific high seas in the belief it was hunting some powerful
marine monster, which had to be purged from the ocean at all cost."
A half smile curled the commander's lips; then, in a calmer tone:
"Professor Aronnax," he replied, "do you dare claim that your frigate
wouldn't have chased and cannonaded an underwater boat as readily
as a monster?"
This question baffled me, since Commander Farragut would certainly
have shown no such hesitation. He would have seen it as his sworn
duty to destroy a contrivance of this kind just as promptly
as a gigantic narwhale.
"So you understand, sir," the stranger went on, "that I have a right
to treat you as my enemy."
I kept quiet, with good reason. What was the use of debating such
a proposition, when superior force can wipe out the best arguments?
"It took me a good while to decide," the commander went on.
"Nothing obliged me to grant you hospitality. If I were to part company
with you, I'd have no personal interest in ever seeing you again.
I could put you back on the platform of this ship that has served
as your refuge. I could sink under the sea, and I could forget
you ever existed. Wouldn't that be my right?"