"Exactly. And I'm certainly not far off when I estimate its value at 2,000,000 . . . uh . . ."
"Francs!" Conseil said quickly.
"Yes," I said, "2,000,000 francs, and no doubt all it cost our captain was the effort to pick it up."
"Ha!" Ned Land exclaimed. "During our stroll tomorrow, who says we won't run into one just like it?"
"Bah!" Conseil put in.
"And why not?"
"What good would a pearl worth millions do us here on the Nautilus?"
"Here, no," Ned Land said. "But elsewhere. . . ."
"Oh! Elsewhere!" Conseil put in, shaking his head.
"In fact," I said, "Mr. Land is right. And if we ever brought back to Europe or America a pearl worth millions, it would make the story of our adventures more authentic--and much more rewarding."
"That's how I see it," the Canadian said.
"But," said Conseil, who perpetually returned to the didactic side of things, "is this pearl fishing ever dangerous?"
"No," I replied quickly, "especially if one takes certain precautions."
"What risks would you run in a job like that?" Ned Land said. "Swallowing a few gulps of salt water?"
"Whatever you say, Ned." Then, trying to imitate Captain Nemo's carefree tone, I asked, "By the way, gallant Ned, are you afraid of sharks?"
"Me?" the Canadian replied. "I'm a professional harpooner! It's my job to make a mockery of them!"
"It isn't an issue," I said, "of fishing for them with a swivel hook, hoisting them onto the deck of a ship, chopping off the tail with a sweep of the ax, opening the belly, ripping out the heart, and tossing it into the sea."
"So it's an issue of . . . ?"
"In the water?"
"In the water."
"Ye gods, just give me a good harpoon! You see, sir, these sharks are badly designed. They have to roll their bellies over to snap you up, and in the meantime . . ."
Ned Land had a way of pronouncing the word "snap" that sent chills down the spine.
"Well, how about you, Conseil? What are your feelings about these man-eaters?"
"Me?" Conseil said. "I'm afraid I must be frank with master."
Good for you, I thought.
"If master faces these sharks," Conseil said, "I think his loyal manservant should face them with him!"
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.