CHAPTER 20: The Torres Strait
DURING THE NIGHT of December 27-28, the Nautilus left
the waterways of Vanikoro behind with extraordinary speed.
Its heading was southwesterly, and in three days it had cleared the 750
leagues that separated La Pérouse's islands from the southeastern
tip of Papua.
On January 1, 1868, bright and early, Conseil joined me on the platform.
"Will master," the gallant lad said to me, "allow me to wish him
a happy new year?"
"Good heavens, Conseil, it's just like old times in my office
at the Botanical Gardens in Paris! I accept your kind wishes
and I thank you for them. Only, I'd like to know what you mean
by a 'happy year' under the circumstances in which we're placed.
Is it a year that will bring our imprisonment to an end, or a year
that will see this strange voyage continue?"
"Ye gods," Conseil replied, "I hardly know what to tell master.
We're certainly seeing some unusual things, and for two months
we've had no time for boredom. The latest wonder is always
the most astonishing, and if this progression keeps up, I can't
imagine what its climax will be. In my opinion, we'll never again
have such an opportunity."
"Besides, Mr. Nemo really lives up to his Latin name, since he couldn't
be less in the way if he didn't exist."
"True enough, Conseil."
"Therefore, with all due respect to master, I think a 'happy year'
would be a year that lets us see everything--"
"Everything, Conseil? No year could be that long. But what does
Ned Land think about all this?"
"Ned Land's thoughts are exactly the opposite of mine,"
Conseil replied. "He has a practical mind and a demanding stomach.
He's tired of staring at fish and eating them day in and day out.
This shortage of wine, bread, and meat isn't suitable for an upstanding
Anglo-Saxon, a man accustomed to beefsteak and unfazed by regular
doses of brandy or gin!"