CHAPTER 21: Some Days Ashore
STEPPING ASHORE had an exhilarating effect on me. Ned Land
tested the soil with his foot, as if he were laying claim to it.
Yet it had been only two months since we had become, as Captain Nemo
expressed it, "passengers on the Nautilus," in other words,
the literal prisoners of its commander.
In a few minutes we were a gunshot away from the coast. The soil was
almost entirely madreporic, but certain dry stream beds were strewn
with granite rubble, proving that this island was of primordial origin.
The entire horizon was hidden behind a curtain of wonderful forests.
Enormous trees, sometimes as high as 200 feet, were linked to each
other by garlands of tropical creepers, genuine natural hammocks
that swayed in a mild breeze. There were mimosas, banyan trees,
beefwood, teakwood, hibiscus, screw pines, palm trees, all mingling
in wild profusion; and beneath the shade of their green canopies,
at the feet of their gigantic trunks, there grew orchids,
leguminous plants, and ferns.
Meanwhile, ignoring all these fine specimens of Papuan flora,
the Canadian passed up the decorative in favor of the functional.
He spotted a coconut palm, beat down some of its fruit, broke them open,
and we drank their milk and ate their meat with a pleasure that was
a protest against our standard fare on the Nautilus.
"Excellent!" Ned Land said.
"Exquisite!" Conseil replied.
"And I don't think," the Canadian said, "that your Nemo would object
to us stashing a cargo of coconuts aboard his vessel?"
"I imagine not," I replied, "but he won't want to sample them."
"Too bad for him!" Conseil said.
"And plenty good for us!" Ned Land shot back. "There'll be
more left over!"
"A word of caution, Mr. Land," I told the harpooner, who was about
to ravage another coconut palm. "Coconuts are admirable things,
but before we stuff the skiff with them, it would be wise to find
out whether this island offers other substances just as useful.
Some fresh vegetables would be well received in the Nautilus's pantry."