I showed my companions this small, stray rock in the middle of the north Pacific.
"If Captain Nemo does sometimes go ashore," I told them, "at least he only picks desert islands!"
Ned Land shook his head without replying; then he and Conseil left me. After supper was served me by the mute and emotionless steward, I fell asleep; but not without some anxieties.
When I woke up the next day, November 17, I sensed that the Nautilus was completely motionless. I dressed hurriedly and entered the main lounge.
Captain Nemo was there waiting for me. He stood up, bowed, and asked if it suited me to come along.
Since he made no allusion to his absence the past eight days, I also refrained from mentioning it, and I simply answered that my companions and I were ready to go with him.
"Only, sir," I added, "I'll take the liberty of addressing a question to you."
"Address away, Professor Aronnax, and if I'm able to answer, I will."
"Well then, captain, how is it that you've severed all ties with the shore, yet you own forests on Crespo Island?"
"Professor," the captain answered me, "these forests of mine don't bask in the heat and light of the sun. They aren't frequented by lions, tigers, panthers, or other quadrupeds. They're known only to me. They grow only for me. These forests aren't on land, they're actual underwater forests."
"Underwater forests!" I exclaimed.
"And you're offering to take me to them?"
"Without getting your feet wet."
"Rifles in hand?"
"Rifles in hand."
I stared at the Nautilus's commander with an air anything but flattering to the man.
"Assuredly," I said to myself, "he's contracted some mental illness. He's had a fit that's lasted eight days and isn't over even yet. What a shame! I liked him better eccentric than insane!"
These thoughts were clearly readable on my face; but Captain Nemo remained content with inviting me to follow him, and I did so like a man resigned to the worst.
We arrived at the dining room, where we found breakfast served.
"Professor Aronnax," the captain told me, "I beg you to share my breakfast without formality. We can chat while we eat. Because, although I promised you a stroll in my forests, I made no pledge to arrange for your encountering a restaurant there. Accordingly, eat your breakfast like a man who'll probably eat dinner only when it's extremely late."
I did justice to this meal. It was made up of various fish and some slices of sea cucumber, that praiseworthy zoophyte, all garnished with such highly appetizing seaweed as the Porphyra laciniata and the Laurencia primafetida. Our beverage consisted of clear water to which, following the captain's example, I added some drops of a fermented liquor extracted by the Kamchatka process from the seaweed known by name as Rhodymenia palmata.
At first Captain Nemo ate without pronouncing a single word. Then he told me:
"Professor, when I proposed that you go hunting in my Crespo forests, you thought I was contradicting myself. When I informed you that it was an issue of underwater forests, you thought I'd gone insane. Professor, you must never make snap judgments about your fellow man."
"But, captain, believe me--"
"Kindly listen to me, and you'll see if you have grounds for accusing me of insanity or self-contradiction."
"I'm all attention."
"Professor, you know as well as I do that a man can live underwater so long as he carries with him his own supply of breathable air. For underwater work projects, the workman wears a waterproof suit with his head imprisoned in a metal capsule, while he receives air from above by means of force pumps and flow regulators."
"That's the standard equipment for a diving suit," I said.
"Correct, but under such conditions the man has no freedom. He's attached to a pump that sends him air through an india-rubber hose; it's an actual chain that fetters him to the shore, and if we were to be bound in this way to the Nautilus, we couldn't go far either."
"Then how do you break free?" I asked.