Cyrus Harding understood the captain’s allusion, and was silent.
“It was an enemy’s frigate,” exclaimed Captain Nemo, transformed for an instant into the Prince Dakkar, “an enemy’s frigate! It was she who attacked me—I was in a narrow and shallow bay—the frigate barred my way— and I sank her!”
A few moments of silence ensued; then the captain demanded,—
“What think you of my life, gentlemen?”
Cyrus Harding extended his hand to the ci-devant prince and replied gravely, “Sir, your error was in supposing that the past can be resuscitated, and in contending against inevitable progress. It is one of those errors which some admire, others blame; which God alone can judge. He who is mistaken in an action which he sincerely believes to be right may be an enemy, but retains our esteem. Your error is one that we may admire, and your name has nothing to fear from the judgment of history, which does not condemn heroic folly, but its results.”
The old man’s breast swelled with emotion, and raising his hand to heaven,—
“Was I wrong, or in the right?” he murmured.
Cyrus Harding replied, “All great actions return to God, from whom they are derived. Captain Nemo, we, whom you have succored, shall ever mourn your loss.”
Herbert, who had drawn near the captain, fell on his knees and kissed his hand.
A tear glistened in the eyes of the dying man. “My child,” he said, “may God bless you!”
Day had returned. No ray of light penetrated into the profundity of the cavern. It being high-water, the entrance was closed by the sea. But the artificial light, which escaped in long streams from the skylights of the “Nautilus” was as vivid as before, and the sheet of water shone around the floating vessel.
An extreme exhaustion now overcame Captain Nemo, who had fallen back upon the divan. It was useless to contemplate removing him to Granite House, for he had expressed his wish to remain in the midst of those marvels of the “Nautilus” which millions could not have purchased, and to wait there for that death which was swiftly approaching.
During a long interval of prostration, which rendered him almost unconscious, Cyrus Harding and Gideon Spilett attentively observed the condition of the dying man. It was apparent that his strength was gradually diminishing. That frame, once so robust, was now but the fragile tenement of a departing soul. All of life was concentrated in the heart and head.
The engineer and reporter consulted in whispers. Was it possible to render any aid to the dying man? Might his life, if not saved, be prolonged for some days? He himself had said that no remedy could avail, and he awaited with tranquillity that death which had for him no terrors.
“We can do nothing,” said Gideon Spilett.
“But of what is he dying?” asked Pencroft.