But tell me, captain, how many oysters can a boat fish up in a workday?"
"About 40,000 to 50,000. It's even said that in 1814, when the English government went fishing on its own behalf, its divers worked just twenty days and brought up 76,000,000 oysters."
"At least," I asked, "the fishermen are well paid, aren't they?"
"Hardly, professor. In Panama they make just $1.00 per week. In most places they earn only a penny for each oyster that has a pearl, and they bring up so many that have none!"
"Only one penny to those poor people who make their employers rich! That's atrocious!"
"On that note, professor," Captain Nemo told me, "you and your companions will visit the Mannar oysterbank, and if by chance some eager fisherman arrives early, well, we can watch him at work."
"That suits me, captain."
"By the way, Professor Aronnax, you aren't afraid of sharks, are you?"
"Sharks?" I exclaimed.
This struck me as a pretty needless question, to say the least.
"Well?" Captain Nemo went on.
"I admit, captain, I'm not yet on very familiar terms with that genus of fish."
"We're used to them, the rest of us," Captain Nemo answered. "And in time you will be too. Anyhow, we'll be armed, and on our way we might hunt a man-eater or two. It's a fascinating sport. So, professor, I'll see you tomorrow, bright and early."
This said in a carefree tone, Captain Nemo left the lounge.
If you're invited to hunt bears in the Swiss mountains, you might say: "Oh good, I get to go bear hunting tomorrow!" If you're invited to hunt lions on the Atlas plains or tigers in the jungles of India, you might say: "Ha! Now's my chance to hunt lions and tigers!" But if you're invited to hunt sharks in their native element, you might want to think it over before accepting.
As for me, I passed a hand over my brow, where beads of cold sweat were busy forming.
"Let's think this over," I said to myself, "and let's take our time. Hunting otters in underwater forests, as we did in the forests of Crespo Island, is an acceptable activity. But to roam the bottom of the sea when you're almost certain to meet man-eaters in the neighborhood, that's another story! I know that in certain countries, particularly the Andaman Islands, Negroes don't hesitate to attack sharks, dagger in one hand and noose in the other; but I also know that many who face those fearsome animals don't come back alive. Besides, I'm not a Negro, and even if I were a Negro, in this instance I don't think a little hesitation on my part would be out of place."
And there I was, fantasizing about sharks, envisioning huge jaws armed with multiple rows of teeth and capable of cutting a man in half. I could already feel a definite pain around my pelvic girdle. And how I resented the offhand manner in which the captain had extended his deplorable invitation! You would have thought it was an issue of going into the woods on some harmless fox hunt!
"Thank heavens!" I said to myself. "Conseil will never want to come along, and that'll be my excuse for not going with the captain."
As for Ned Land, I admit I felt less confident of his wisdom. Danger, however great, held a perennial attraction for his aggressive nature.
I went back to reading Sirr's book, but I leafed through it mechanically. Between the lines I kept seeing fearsome, wide-open jaws.
Just then Conseil and the Canadian entered with a calm, even gleeful air. Little did they know what was waiting for them.
"Ye gods, sir!" Ned Land told me. "Your Captain Nemo--the devil take him--has just made us a very pleasant proposition!"
"Oh!" I said "You know about--"
"With all due respect to master," Conseil replied, "the Nautilus's commander has invited us, together with master, for a visit tomorrow to Ceylon's magnificent pearl fisheries. He did so in the most cordial terms and conducted himself like a true gentleman."
"He didn't tell you anything else?"
"Nothing, sir," the Canadian replied. "He said you'd already discussed this little stroll."
"Indeed," I said.