What's certain is that in 615 B.C. King Necho II was hard at work on a canal that was fed by Nile water and ran through the Egyptian plains opposite Arabia. This canal could be traveled in four days, and it was so wide, two triple-tiered galleys could pass through it abreast. Its construction was continued by Darius the Great, son of Hystaspes, and probably completed by King Ptolemy II. Strabo saw it used for shipping; but the weakness of its slope between its starting point, near Bubastis, and the Red Sea left it navigable only a few months out of the year. This canal served commerce until the century of Rome's Antonine emperors; it was then abandoned and covered with sand, subsequently reinstated by Arabia's Caliph Omar I, and finally filled in for good in 761 or 762 A.D. by Caliph Al-Mansur, in an effort to prevent supplies from reaching Mohammed ibn Abdullah, who had rebelled against him. During his Egyptian campaign, your General Napoleon Bonaparte discovered traces of this old canal in the Suez desert, and when the tide caught him by surprise, he wellnigh perished just a few hours before rejoining his regiment at Hadjaroth, the very place where Moses had pitched camp 3,300 years before him."
"Well, captain, what the ancients hesitated to undertake, Mr. de Lesseps is now finishing up; his joining of these two seas will shorten the route from Cadiz to the East Indies by 9,000 kilometers, and he'll soon change Africa into an immense island."
"Yes, Professor Aronnax, and you have every right to be proud of your fellow countryman. Such a man brings a nation more honor than the greatest commanders! Like so many others, he began with difficulties and setbacks, but he triumphed because he has the volunteer spirit. And it's sad to think that this deed, which should have been an international deed, which would have insured that any administration went down in history, will succeed only through the efforts of one man. So all hail to Mr. de Lesseps!"
"Yes, all hail to that great French citizen," I replied, quite startled by how emphatically Captain Nemo had just spoken.
"Unfortunately," he went on, "I can't take you through that Suez Canal, but the day after tomorrow, you'll be able to see the long jetties of Port Said when we're in the Mediterranean."
"In the Mediterranean!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, professor. Does that amaze you?"
"What amazes me is thinking we'll be there the day after tomorrow."
"Yes, captain, although since I've been aboard your vessel, I should have formed the habit of not being amazed by anything!"
"But what is it that startles you?"
"The thought of how hideously fast the Nautilus will need to go, if it's to double the Cape of Good Hope, circle around Africa, and lie in the open Mediterranean by the day after tomorrow."
"And who says it will circle Africa, professor? What's this talk about doubling the Cape of Good Hope?"
"But unless the Nautilus navigates on dry land and crosses over the isthmus--"
"Or under it, Professor Aronnax."
"Surely," Captain Nemo replied serenely. "Under that tongue of land, nature long ago made what man today is making on its surface."
"What! There's a passageway?"
"Yes, an underground passageway that I've named the Arabian Tunnel. It starts below Suez and leads to the Bay of Pelusium."
"But isn't that isthmus only composed of quicksand?"
"To a certain depth. But at merely fifty meters, one encounters a firm foundation of rock."
"And it's by luck that you discovered this passageway?" I asked, more and more startled.
"Luck plus logic, professor, and logic even more than luck."
"Captain, I hear you, but I can't believe my ears."
"Oh, sir! The old saying still holds good: Aures habent et non audient!* Not only does this passageway exist, but I've taken advantage of it on several occasions. Without it, I wouldn't have ventured today into such a blind alley as the Red Sea."
*Latin: "They have ears but hear not." Ed.
"Is it indiscreet to ask how you discovered this tunnel?"
"Sir," the captain answered me, "there can be no secrets between men who will never leave each other."
I ignored this innuendo and waited for Captain Nemo's explanation.