CHAPTER 3: A Pearl Worth Ten Million
NIGHT FELL. I went to bed. I slept pretty poorly. Man-eaters played
a major role in my dreams. And I found it more or less appropriate
that the French word for shark, requin, has its linguistic roots
in the word requiem.
The next day at four o'clock in the morning, I was awakened by
the steward whom Captain Nemo had placed expressly at my service.
I got up quickly, dressed, and went into the lounge.
Captain Nemo was waiting for me.
"Professor Aronnax," he said to me, "are you ready to start?"
"Kindly follow me."
"What about my companions, captain?"
"They've been alerted and are waiting for us."
"Aren't we going to put on our diving suits?" I asked.
"Not yet. I haven't let the Nautilus pull too near the coast,
and we're fairly well out from the Mannar oysterbank.
But I have the skiff ready, and it will take us to the exact spot
where we'll disembark, which will save us a pretty long trek.
It's carrying our diving equipment, and we'll suit up just before we
begin our underwater exploring."
Captain Nemo took me to the central companionway whose steps led
to the platform. Ned and Conseil were there, enraptured with
the "pleasure trip" getting under way. Oars in position,
five of the Nautilus's sailors were waiting for us aboard the skiff,
which was moored alongside. The night was still dark.
Layers of clouds cloaked the sky and left only a few stars in view.
My eyes flew to the side where land lay, but I saw only a blurred line
covering three-quarters of the horizon from southwest to northwest.
Going up Ceylon's west coast during the night, the Nautilus lay
west of the bay, or rather that gulf formed by the mainland
and Mannar Island. Under these dark waters there stretched
the bank of shellfish, an inexhaustible field of pearls more than
twenty miles long.