It was for him, for him alone, that America had yielded up its precious metals. He was the direct, sole heir to these treasures wrested from the Incas and those peoples conquered by Hernando Cortez!
"Did you know, professor," he asked me with a smile, "that the sea contained such wealth?"
"I know it's estimated," I replied, "that there are 2,000,000 metric tons of silver held in suspension in seawater."
"Surely, but in extracting that silver, your expenses would outweigh your profits. Here, by contrast, I have only to pick up what other men have lost, and not only in this Bay of Vigo but at a thousand other sites where ships have gone down, whose positions are marked on my underwater chart. Do you understand now that I'm rich to the tune of billions?"
"I understand, captain. Nevertheless, allow me to inform you that by harvesting this very Bay of Vigo, you're simply forestalling the efforts of a rival organization."
"A company chartered by the Spanish government to search for these sunken galleons. The company's investors were lured by the bait of enormous gains, because this scuttled treasure is estimated to be worth 500,000,000 francs."
"It was 500,000,000 francs," Captain Nemo replied, "but no more!"
"Right," I said. "Hence a timely warning to those investors would be an act of charity. Yet who knows if it would be well received? Usually what gamblers regret the most isn't the loss of their money so much as the loss of their insane hopes. But ultimately I feel less sorry for them than for the thousands of unfortunate people who would have benefited from a fair distribution of this wealth, whereas now it will be of no help to them!"
No sooner had I voiced this regret than I felt it must have wounded Captain Nemo.
"No help!" he replied with growing animation. "Sir, what makes you assume this wealth goes to waste when I'm the one amassing it? Do you think I toil to gather this treasure out of selfishness? Who says I don't put it to good use? Do you think I'm unaware of the suffering beings and oppressed races living on this earth, poor people to comfort, victims to avenge? Don't you understand . . . ?"
Captain Nemo stopped on these last words, perhaps sorry that he had said too much. But I had guessed. Whatever motives had driven him to seek independence under the seas, he remained a human being before all else! His heart still throbbed for suffering humanity, and his immense philanthropy went out both to downtrodden races and to individuals!
And now I knew where Captain Nemo had delivered those millions, when the Nautilus navigated the waters where Crete was in rebellion against the Ottoman Empire!
A Lost Continent
THE NEXT MORNING, February 19, I beheld the Canadian entering my stateroom. I was expecting this visit. He wore an expression of great disappointment.
"Well, sir?" he said to me.
"Well, Ned, the fates were against us yesterday."
"Yes! That damned captain had to call a halt just as we were going to escape from his boat."
"Yes, Ned, he had business with his bankers."
"Or rather his bank vaults. By which I mean this ocean, where his wealth is safer than in any national treasury."
I then related the evening's incidents to the Canadian, secretly hoping he would come around to the idea of not deserting the captain; but my narrative had no result other than Ned's voicing deep regret that he hadn't strolled across the Vigo battlefield on his own behalf.
"Anyhow," he said, "it's not over yet! My first harpoon missed, that's all! We'll succeed the next time, and as soon as this evening, if need be . . ."
"What's the Nautilus's heading?" I asked.
"I've no idea," Ned replied.
"All right, at noon we'll find out what our position is!"
The Canadian returned to Conseil's side. As soon as I was dressed, I went into the lounge. The compass wasn't encouraging. The Nautilus's course was south-southwest. We were turning our backs on Europe.