Vingt mille lieues sous.., p.18

Vingt mille lieues sous les mers. English, page 18

 

Vingt mille lieues sous les mers. English
 



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"Sir," he answered, "you can trust me when I say this hunkof iron will never navigate again, on the seas or under them.It's only fit to be sold for its weight. So I think it's timewe gave Captain Nemo the slip."

  "Ned my friend," I replied, "unlike you, I haven't given up onour valiant Nautilus, and in four days we'll know where we standon these Pacific tides. Besides, an escape attempt might betimely if we were in sight of the coasts of England or Provence,but in the waterways of Papua it's another story. And we'll alwayshave that as a last resort if the Nautilus doesn't right itself,which I'd regard as a real calamity."

  "But couldn't we at least get the lay of the land?" Ned went on."Here's an island. On this island there are trees.Under those trees land animals loaded with cutlets and roast beef,which I'd be happy to sink my teeth into."

  "In this instance our friend Ned is right," Conseil said, "and I sidewith his views. Couldn't master persuade his friend Captain Nemoto send the three of us ashore, if only so our feet don't losethe knack of treading on the solid parts of our planet?"

  "I can ask him," I replied, "but he'll refuse."

  "Let master take the risk," Conseil said, "and we'll know where westand on the captain's affability."

  Much to my surprise, Captain Nemo gave me the permission I asked for,and he did so with grace and alacrity, not even exacting my promiseto return on board. But fleeing across the New Guinea territories wouldbe extremely dangerous, and I wouldn't have advised Ned Land to try it.Better to be prisoners aboard the Nautilus than to fall into the handsof Papuan natives.

  The skiff was put at our disposal for the next morning.I hardly needed to ask whether Captain Nemo would be coming along.I likewise assumed that no crewmen would be assigned to us,that Ned Land would be in sole charge of piloting the longboat.Besides, the shore lay no more than two miles off, and it wouldbe child's play for the Canadian to guide that nimble skiff throughthose rows of reefs so ill-fated for big ships.

  The next day, January 5, after its deck paneling was opened,the skiff was wrenched from its socket and launched to sea fromthe top of the platform. Two men were sufficient for this operation.The oars were inside the longboat and we had only to take our seats.

  At eight o'clock, armed with rifles and axes, we pulled clearof the Nautilus. The sea was fairly calm. A mild breeze blewfrom shore. In place by the oars, Conseil and I rowed vigorously,and Ned steered us into the narrow lanes between the breakers.The skiff handled easily and sped swiftly.

  Ned Land couldn't conceal his glee. He was a prisoner escapingfrom prison and never dreaming he would need to reenter it.

  "Meat!" he kept repeating. "Now we'll eat red meat! Actual game!A real mess call, by thunder! I'm not saying fish aren't good for you,but we mustn't overdo 'em, and a slice of fresh venison grilledover live coals will be a nice change from our standard fare."

  "You glutton," Conseil replied, "you're making my mouth water!"

  "It remains to be seen," I said, "whether these forests do contain game,and if the types of game aren't of such size that they canhunt the hunter."

  "Fine, Professor Aronnax!" replied the Canadian, whose teeth seemedto be as honed as the edge of an ax. "But if there's no otherquadruped on this island, I'll eat tiger--tiger sirloin."

  "Our friend Ned grows disturbing," Conseil replied.

  "Whatever it is," Ned Land went on, "any animal having four feetwithout feathers, or two feet with feathers, will be greeted by myvery own one-gun salute."

  "Oh good!" I replied. "The reckless Mr. Land is at it again!"

  "Don't worry, Professor Aronnax, just keep rowing!" the Canadian replied."I only need twenty-five minutes to serve you one of myown special creations."

  By 8:30 the Nautilus's skiff had just run gently aground ona sandy strand, after successfully clearing the ring of coralthat surrounds Gueboroa Island.

  CHAPTER 21

  Some Days Ashore

  STEPPING ASHORE had an exhilarating effect on me. Ned Landtested 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 Nemoexpressed 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 wasalmost entirely madreporic, but certain dry stream beds were strewnwith 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 eachother by garlands of tropical creepers, genuine natural hammocksthat swayed in a mild breeze. There were mimosas, banyan trees,beefwood, teakwood, hibiscus, screw pines, palm trees, all minglingin 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 wasa 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 objectto 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 bemore left over!"

  "A word of caution, Mr. Land," I told the harpooner, who was aboutto ravage another coconut palm. "Coconuts are admirable things,but before we stuff the skiff with them, it would be wise to findout whether this island offers other substances just as useful.Some fresh vegetables would be well received in the Nautilus's pantry."

  "Master is right," Conseil replied, "and I propose that we set asidethree places in our longboat: one for fruit, another for vegetables,and a third for venison, of which I still haven't glimpsedthe tiniest specimen."

  "Don't give up so easily, Conseil," the Canadian replied.

  "So let's continue our excursion," I went on, "but keep a sharp lookout.This island seems uninhabited, but it still might harbor certainindividuals who aren't so finicky about the sort of game they eat!"

  "Hee hee!" Ned put in, with a meaningful movement of his jaws.

  "Ned! Oh horrors!" Conseil exclaimed.

  "Ye gods," the Canadian shot back, "I'm starting to appreciatethe charms of cannibalism!"

  "Ned, Ned! Don't say that!" Conseil answered. "You a cannibal?Why, I'll no longer be safe next to you, I who share your cabin!Does this mean I'll wake up half devoured one fine day?"

  "I'm awfully fond of you, Conseil my friend, but not enough to eatyou when there's better food around."

  "Then I daren't delay," Conseil replied. "The hunt is on!We absolutely must bag some game to placate this man-eater, or oneof these mornings master won't find enough pieces of his manservantto serve him."

  While exchanging this chitchat, we entered beneath the dark canopiesof the forest, and for two hours we explored it in every direction.

  We couldn't have been luckier in our search for edible vegetation,and some of the most useful produce in the tropical zones suppliedus with a valuable foodstuff missing on board.

  I mean the breadfruit tree, which is quite abundant on Gueboroa Island,and there I chiefly noted the seedless variety that in Malaysiais called "rima."

  This tree is distinguished from other trees by a straight trunk fortyfeet high. To the naturalist's eye, its gracefully rounded crown,formed of big multilobed leaves, was enough to denote the artocarpusthat has been so successfully transplanted to the Mascarene Islands east of

  Madagascar. From its mass of greenery, huge globular fruit stood out,a decimeter wide and furnished on the outside with creases thatassumed a hexangular pattern. It's a handy plant that nature givesto regions lacking in wheat; without needing to be c
ultivated,it bears fruit eight months out of the year.

  Ned Land was on familiar terms with this fruit. He had already eatenit on his many voyages and knew how to cook its edible substance.So the very sight of it aroused his appetite, and he couldn'tcontrol himself.

  "Sir," he told me, "I'll die if I don't sample a little breadfruit pasta!"

  "Sample some, Ned my friend, sample all you like. We're hereto conduct experiments, let's conduct them."

  "It won't take a minute," the Canadian replied.

  Equipped with a magnifying glass, he lit a fire of deadwoodthat was soon crackling merrily. Meanwhile Conseil and I selectedthe finest artocarpus fruit. Some still weren't ripe enough,and their thick skins covered white, slightly fibrous pulps.But a great many others were yellowish and gelatinous, just beggingto be picked.

  This fruit contained no pits. Conseil brought a dozen of themto Ned Land, who cut them into thick slices and placed them overa fire of live coals, all the while repeating:

  "You'll see, sir, how tasty this bread is!"

  "Especially since we've gone without baked goods for so long,"Conseil said.

  "It's more than just bread," the Canadian added. "It's a dainty pastry.You've never eaten any, sir?"

  "No, Ned."

  "All right, get ready for something downright delectable!If you don't come back for seconds, I'm no longer the King of Harpooners!"

  After a few minutes, the parts of the fruit exposed to the fire werecompletely toasted. On the inside there appeared some white pasta,a sort of soft bread center whose flavor reminded me of artichoke.

  This bread was excellent, I must admit, and I ate it with great pleasure.

  "Unfortunately," I said, "this pasta won't stay fresh, so it seemspointless to make a supply for on board."

  "By thunder, sir!" Ned Land exclaimed. "There you go,talking like a naturalist, but meantime I'll be acting like a baker!Conseil, harvest some of this fruit to take with us when we go back."

  "And how will you prepare it?" I asked the Canadian.

  "I'll make a fermented batter from its pulp that'll keepindefinitely without spoiling. When I want some, I'll just cookit in the galley on board--it'll have a slightly tart flavor,but you'll find it excellent."

  "So, Mr. Ned, I see that this bread is all we need--"

  "Not quite, professor," the Canadian replied. "We need some fruitto go with it, or at least some vegetables."

  "Then let's look for fruit and vegetables."

  When our breadfruit harvesting was done, we took to the trailto complete this "dry-land dinner."

  We didn't search in vain, and near noontime we had an ample supplyof bananas. This delicious produce from the Torrid Zones ripensall year round, and Malaysians, who give them the name "pisang,"eat them without bothering to cook them. In addition to bananas,we gathered some enormous jackfruit with a very tangy flavor,some tasty mangoes, and some pineapples of unbelievable size.But this foraging took up a good deal of our time, which, even so,we had no cause to regret.

  Conseil kept Ned under observation. The harpooner walked in the lead,and during his stroll through this forest, he gathered with sure handssome excellent fruit that should have completed his provisions.

  "So," Conseil asked, "you have everything you need, Ned my friend?"

  "Humph!" the Canadian put in.

  "What! You're complaining?"

  "All this vegetation doesn't make a meal," Ned replied."Just side dishes, dessert. But where's the soup course?Where's the roast?"

  "Right," I said. "Ned promised us cutlets, which seems highlyquestionable to me."

  "Sir," the Canadian replied, "our hunting not only isn't over,it hasn't even started. Patience! We're sure to end up bumpinginto some animal with either feathers or fur, if not in this locality,then in another."

  "And if not today, then tomorrow, because we mustn't wander too far off,"Conseil added. "That's why I propose that we return to the skiff."

  "What! Already!" Ned exclaimed.

  "We ought to be back before nightfall," I said.

  "But what hour is it, then?" the Canadian asked.

  "Two o'clock at least," Conseil replied.

  "How time flies on solid ground!" exclaimed Mr. Ned Land with asigh of regret.

  "Off we go!" Conseil replied.

  So we returned through the forest, and we completed our harvestby making a clean sweep of some palm cabbages that had to be pickedfrom the crowns of their trees, some small beans that I recognizedas the "abrou" of the Malaysians, and some high-quality yams.

  We were overloaded when we arrived at the skiff. However, Ned Landstill found these provisions inadequate. But fortune smiled on him.Just as we were boarding, he spotted several trees twenty-fiveto thirty feet high, belonging to the palm species.As valuable as the artocarpus, these trees are justly ranked amongthe most useful produce in Malaysia.

  They were sago palms, vegetation that grows without being cultivated;like mulberry trees, they reproduce by means of shoots and seeds.

  Ned Land knew how to handle these trees. Taking his ax and wieldingit with great vigor, he soon stretched out on the ground two orthree sago palms, whose maturity was revealed by the white dustsprinkled over their palm fronds.

  I watched him more as a naturalist than as a man in hunger.He began by removing from each trunk an inch-thick strip of bark thatcovered a network of long, hopelessly tangled fibers that were puttiedwith a sort of gummy flour. This flour was the starch-like sago,an edible substance chiefly consumed by the Melanesian peoples.

  For the time being, Ned Land was content to chop these trunks into pieces,as if he were making firewood; later he would extract the flourby sifting it through cloth to separate it from its fibrous ligaments,let it dry out in the sun, and leave it to harden inside molds.

  Finally, at five o'clock in the afternoon, laden with all our treasures,we left the island beach and half an hour later pulled alongsidethe Nautilus. Nobody appeared on our arrival. The enormoussheet-iron cylinder seemed deserted. Our provisions loaded on board,I went below to my stateroom. There I found my supper ready.I ate and then fell asleep.

  The next day, January 6: nothing new on board. Not a sound inside,not a sign of life. The skiff stayed alongside in the same placewe had left it. We decided to return to Gueboroa Island. Ned Landhoped for better luck in his hunting than on the day before,and he wanted to visit a different part of the forest.

  By sunrise we were off. Carried by an inbound current, the longboatreached the island in a matter of moments.

  We disembarked, and thinking it best to abide by the Canadian's instincts,we followed Ned Land, whose long legs threatened to outpace us.

  Ned Land went westward up the coast; then, fording some stream beds,he reached open plains that were bordered by wonderful forests.Some kingfishers lurked along the watercourses, but they didn'tlet us approach. Their cautious behavior proved to me that thesewinged creatures knew where they stood on bipeds of our species,and I concluded that if this island wasn't inhabited, at leasthuman beings paid it frequent visits.

  After crossing a pretty lush prairie, we arrived on the outskirtsof a small wood, enlivened by the singing and soaring of a largenumber of birds.

  "Still, they're merely birds," Conseil said.

  "But some are edible," the harpooner replied.

  "Wrong, Ned my friend," Conseil answered, "because I see onlyordinary parrots here."

  "Conseil my friend," Ned replied in all seriousness, "parrots arelike pheasant to people with nothing else on their plates."

  "And I might add," I said, "that when these birds are properly cooked,they're at least worth a stab of the fork."

  Indeed, under the dense foliage of this wood, a whole host of parrotsfluttered from branch to branch, needing only the proper upbringingto speak human dialects. At present they were cackling in choruswith parakeets of every color, with solemn cockatoos that seemed to bepondering some philosophical problem, while bright red lories pa
ssedby like pieces of bunting borne on the breeze, in the midst of kalaoparrots raucously on the wing, Papuan lories painted the subtlestshades of azure, and a whole variety of delightful winged creatures,none terribly edible.

  However, one bird unique to these shores, which never passesbeyond the boundaries of the Aru and Papuan Islands, was missingfrom this collection. But I was given a chance to marvel atit soon enough.

  After crossing through a moderately dense thicket, we again foundsome plains obstructed by bushes. There I saw some magnificent birdssoaring aloft, the arrangement of their long feathers causing them to headinto the wind. Their undulating flight, the grace of their aerial curves,and the play of their colors allured and delighted the eye.I had no trouble identifying them.

  "Birds of paradise!" I exclaimed.

  "Order Passeriforma, division Clystomora," Conseil replied.

  "Partridge family?" Ned Land asked.

  "I doubt it, Mr. Land. Nevertheless, I'm counting on your dexterityto catch me one of these delightful representatives of tropical nature!"

  "I'll give it a try, professor, though I'm handier with a harpoonthan a rifle."

  Malaysians, who do a booming business in these birds with the Chinese,have various methods for catching them that we couldn't use.Sometimes they set snares on the tops of the tall trees thatthe bird of paradise prefers to inhabit. At other times theycapture it with a tenacious glue that paralyzes its movements.They will even go so far as to poison the springs where these fowlhabitually drink. But in our case, all we could do was fireat them on the wing, which left us little chance of getting one.And in truth, we used up a good part of our ammunition in vain.

 

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