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The Mysterious Island

by Jules Verne, Trans. By William Henry Giles Kingston

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About Book

“The reason Verne is still read by millions today is simply that he was one of the best storytellers who ever lived.” —Arthur C. Clarke

From the Trade Paperback edition.

?The reason Verne is still read by millions today is simply that he was one of the best storytellers who ever lived.? ?Arthur C. Clarke

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Book Description
Based on the true story of Alexander Selkirk, who survived alone for almost five years on an uninhabited island off the coast of Chile, The Mysterious Island is considered by many to be Jules Verne’s masterpiece. “Wide-eyed mid-nineteenth-century humanistic optimism in a breezy, blissfully readable translation by Stump” (Kirkus Reviews), here is the enthralling tale of five men and a dog who land in a balloon on a faraway, fantastic island of bewildering goings-on and their struggle to survive as they uncover the island’s secret.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Inside Flap Copy
Based on the true story of Alexander Selkirk, who survived alone for almost five years on an uninhabited island off the coast of Chile, The Mysterious Island is considered by many to be Jules Verne?s masterpiece. ?Wide-eyed mid-nineteenth-century humanistic optimism in a breezy, blissfully readable translation by Stump? (Kirkus Reviews), here is the enthralling tale of five men and a dog who land in a balloon on a faraway, fantastic island of bewildering goings-on and their struggle to survive as they uncover the island?s secret.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

About the Author
Jordan Stump is an associate professor of French at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and translator of more than half a dozen French novels. His translation of Nobel Prize–winning novelist Claude Simon’s Le jardin des plantes won the French-American Foundation Translation Prize for 2001.

Caleb Carr is the bestselling author of The Alienist and, most recently, The Lessons of Terror. He lives in New York.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Chapter 1

The Great Storm of 1865.-Shouts in the Air.-A Balloon in a Whirlwind.-The Torn Fabric.-Nothing but Water.-Five Passengers.-The Events in the Gondola.-A Shoreline on the Horizon.-The Outcome of the Drama.

"Are we rising?"

"No! Quite the reverse! We're sinking!"

"Worse than that, Mr. Cyrus! We're falling!"

"For the love of God! Drop some ballast!"

"That's the last sack emptied!"

"Is the balloon climbing now?"


"I think I hear waves crashing!"

"We're over the ocean!"

"We can't be more than five hundred feet above it!"

Just then a powerful voice rent the air, and the following words rang out:

"Everything heavy overboard! . . . everything! And God save us!"

Such were the cries echoing over the vast emptiness of the Pacific Ocean on March 23rd, 1865, at about four o'clock in the afternoon.

Surely no one will have forgotten the terrible northeasterly gale that was unleashed at the vernal equinox of that year. The barometer fell to 710 millimeters, and the storm went on unabated from the eighteenth to the twenty-sixth of March. Great was the devastation it wrought, in America, Europe, and Asia alike-a vast diagonal swath of destruction eighteen hundred miles wide, from the thirty-fifth parallel north to the fortieth south! Shattered cities, uprooted forests, shorelines ravaged by crashing mountains of water, ships slammed against the shore-by the hundreds, according to the dossiers of the Bureau Veritas-whole regions leveled by cyclones that smashed everything in their path, a human toll that numbered in the thousands, both on land and at sea: such was the scene in the wake of the cyclone, and such were the tokens of its fury. In the ranks of natural disasters, it outstripped even the horrific devastation witnessed at Havana and on the island of Guadeloupe, on October 25th, 1810, and July 26th, 1825, respectively.

Now, even as these many catastrophes were unfolding at sea and on land, another drama, no less prodigious, was being played out in the turbulent skies.

For a balloon, wafted along atop a whirlwind like a toy ball, and caught up in the rotational movement of the column of air, was traveling through the heavens at a speed of ninety miles an hour,* spinning in circles as if seized by some aerial maelstrom.

Beneath the appendix on the underside of the balloon swayed a gondola holding five passengers, scarcely visible in the dense mists and sea spray that suffused the air.

Whence came this aerostat, this plaything of the terrible storm? From what point on the globe had it taken flight? It could not have set off in the middle of the cyclone, of course, and the cyclone's first symptoms had appeared on the eighteenth-five days before. The reasonable conclusion would thus be that the balloon had come from far, far away; indeed, given the speed of the wind, it could not have traveled less than two thousand miles in every twenty-four-hour period!

But, caught up in the storm as they were, the passengers had no point of reference, and hence no means of gauging the distance they had traveled. Indeed, a very curious phenomenon must then have been at work: the violent winds propelled them at a terrific speed, and yet they themselves had no sense of their own motion. Forward they sped, ever turning circles, as perfectly unaware of their rotation as of their horizontal movement. Their gaze could not penetrate the thick mass of fog below them; and around them all was gray mist, forming a veil so opaque that they could not say whether it was day or night. No glimmer of light, no sound from land, no ocean roar could have reached them through that vast darkness so long as they remained at high altitude. Their rapid descent alone had alerted them to the peril they faced above the waves.

But now, relieved of all heavy objects such as ammunition, weapons, and provisions, the balloon had once again risen into the upper levels of the atmosphere, to an altitude of 4,500 feet. Realizing that the sea alone lay beneath the gondola, and believing the dangers awaiting them above to be less formidable than those below, the passengers did not hesitate to jettison even the most vital elements of their equipment; their only thought was to prevent any further loss of the precious gas, the soul of their conveyance, that held them aloft over the abyss.

The night passed, full of fears that might have proven fatal for less vigorous souls. Then daylight returned, and with the sunrise the storm began to abate. A newfound calm settled over the atmosphere in the first hours of that twenty-fourth of March. By dawn the clouds had grown more billowy, and had lifted higher into the sky. Over the next several hours, the whirlwind gradually expanded and weakened. The winds, once hurricane-force, were now at the "near-gale" level, meaning that the speed of the atmospheric levels' translatory motion had fallen by half. The balloon was still caught up in a wind that would have caused a prudent sailor to take three reefs in his sail; nevertheless, the perturbation of the atmosphere had greatly decreased.

By eleven o'clock, the air had cleared noticeably at the lower altitudes. The atmosphere was bathed in the sort of damp limpidity that is often seen, and even felt, in the wake of a major meteorological phenomenon. It seemed not so much that the cyclone had moved on to the west as that it had simply exhausted itself. Perhaps, once the center had collapsed, its energy had dispersed in sheets of electricity, as sometimes happens with typhoons in the Indian Ocean.

At about this same hour, it became evident that the balloon was once again sinking through the lower levels of the atmosphere, slowly and continuously. Worse yet, it seemed to be deflating little by little, the envelope growing longer, distended, no longer spherical but ovoid.

By noon, the aerostat hovered no more than two thousand feet above the sea. Its volume was fifty thousand cubic feet,* and it was thanks to this that it had stayed so long afloat; for a balloon with such a capacity can travel both high and far.

Now the passengers jettisoned the last few objects weighing down the gondola, the small remaining store of foodstuffs, even the utensils crammed into their pockets, and one of them, hoisting himself onto the ring that encircled the ropes of the net, tried to tie off the aerostat's appendix with a sturdy knot.

It was clear that the passengers could not hope to maintain the balloon in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. A great quantity of gas must have escaped from the envelope into the open air!

They were finished!

For no continent lay beneath them, not even so much as an island. Not a single landing place as far as the eye could see, not a single solid surface in which to cast anchor.

Only the vast ocean, whose waves continued to crash with an inconceivable violence! The sea, with no visible end, not even from an altitude that offered a view of forty miles in every direction! Only a liquid plain, relentlessly tossed and whipped by the winds, which appeared from this height as an endless cavalcade of frenzied waves topped by a vast expanse of foaming whitecaps! No land in sight, not a ship to be seen!

The descent would have to be halted, no matter what the cost, for if left to fall unchecked the balloon would soon vanish into the billows. It was thus to this urgent task that the passengers of the gondola now turned their efforts; but no matter how they struggled, the balloon only continued to sink, all the while moving at great speed with the direction of the wind, from northeast to southwest.

A truly terrible situation now faced the aerostat's wretched passengers! They were clearly no longer in control of their craft. Their exertions had no effect. The envelope of the balloon was deflating before their eyes; the gas was escaping, and they had not the slightest hope of preserving it. The descent was accelerating perceptibly, and, at one hour past noon, the gondola hung only six hundred feet above the ocean.

For the leak had proved impossible to stem, and the gas flowed unhindered through a tear in the fabric of the balloon.

By ridding the gondola of its contents, the passengers had prolonged their aerial suspension by a few hours. The catastrophe could be delayed, but it could not be prevented; and unless some land appeared before nightfall, the passengers, the gondola, and the balloon would disappear forever beneath the waves.

One final maneuver was left to them, and it was to this that they now turned in desperation. It should be plain to see that the aerostat's passengers were men of great mettle, able to look unflinching into the face of death, without a single murmur of complaint. They were determined to fight to the very last, to do whatever they must to slow their fall. The gondola was nothing more than a sort of wicker basket, incapable of flotation; once it had dropped to the surface of the water, it would inevitably sink like a stone.

At two o'clock, the aerostat was scarcely four hundred feet above the waves.

Just then, a manly voice-the voice of one whose heart was impervious to fear-made itself heard. To this voice responded other voices, no less forceful than the first.

"Has everything been thrown out?"

"No! There are still ten thousand francs in gold!"

And at once a heavy sack fell into the water.

"Is the balloon climbing now?"

"A little, but it will soon be sinking again!"

"What's left to throw overboard?"


"One thing! . . . The gondola!"

"Hang on to the net! and off with the gondola!"

For this was their one last means of lightening the aerostat. The ropes attaching the gondola to the ring were cut, and when it had fallen away the aerostat climbed two thousand...



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