Part 2 out of 7
ever since the 1st of January, that the sun had risen in the west?
Had he noticed that the days had been only six hours long,
and that the weight of the atmosphere was so much diminished?
Had he observed that the moon had quite disappeared, and that
the earth had been in imminent hazard of running foul of the
planet Venus? Was he aware, in short, that the entire motions
of the terrestrial sphere had undergone a complete modification?
To all these inquiries, the count responded in the affirmative.
He was acquainted with everything that had transpired; but, to Servadac's
increasing astonishment, he could throw no light upon the cause
of any of the phenomena.
"On the night of the 31st of December," he said, "I was proceeding
by sea to our appointed place of meeting, when my yacht was suddenly
caught on the crest of an enormous wave, and carried to a height
which it is beyond my power to estimate. Some mysterious force
seemed to have brought about a convulsion of the elements.
Our engine was damaged, nay disabled, and we drifted entirely at the mercy
of the terrible hurricane that raged during the succeeding days.
That the _Dobryna_ escaped at all is little less than a miracle,
and I can only attribute her safety to the fact that she occupied
the center of the vast cyclone, and consequently did not experience
much change of position."
He paused, and added: "Your island is the first land we have seen."
"Then let us put out to sea at once and ascertain the extent of the disaster,"
cried the captain, eagerly. "You will take me on board, count, will you not?"
"My yacht is at your service, sir, even should you require to make a tour
round the world."
"A tour round the Mediterranean will suffice for the present, I think,"
said the captain, smiling.
The count shook his head.
"I am not sure," said he, "but what the tour of the Mediterranean
will prove to be the tour of the world."
Servadac made no reply, but for a time remained silent and
absorbed in thought.
After the silence was broken, they consulted as to what course was
best to pursue; and the plan they proposed was, in the first place,
to discover how much of the African coast still remained, and to carry
on the tidings of their own experiences to Algiers; or, in the event
of the southern shore having actually disappeared, they would make their
way northwards and put themselves in communication with the population
on the river banks of Europe.
Before starting, it was indispensable that the engine of the
_Dobryna_ should be repaired: to sail under canvas only would
in contrary winds and rough seas be both tedious and difficult.
The stock of coal on board was adequate for two months' consumption;
but as it would at the expiration of that time be exhausted,
it was obviously the part of prudence to employ it in reaching
a port where fuel could be replenished.
The damage sustained by the engine proved to be not very serious;
and in three days after her arrival the _Dobryna_ was again ready
to put to sea.
Servadac employed the interval in making the count acquainted
with all he knew about his small domain. They made an entire
circuit of the island, and both agreed that it must be beyond
the limits of that circumscribed territory that they must seek
an explanation of what had so strangely. transpired.
It was on the last day of January that the repairs of the schooner
were completed. A slight diminution in the excessively high
temperature which had prevailed for the last few weeks, was the only
apparent change in the general order of things; but whether this
was to be attributed to any alteration in the earth's orbit was
a question which would still require several days to decide.
The weather remained fine, and although a few clouds had accumulated,
and might have caused a trifling fall of the barometer, they were not
sufficiently threatening to delay the departure of the _Dobryna_.
Doubts now arose, and some discussion followed, whether or
not it was desirable for Ben Zoof to accompany his master.
There were various reasons why he should be left behind, not the least
important being that the schooner had no accommodation for horses,
and the orderly would have found it hard to part with Zephyr,
and much more with his own favorite Galette; besides, it was advisable
that there should be some one left to receive any strangers that
might possibly arrive, as well as to keep an eye upon the herds
of cattle which, in the dubious prospect before them, might prove
to be the sole resource of the survivors of the catastrophe.
Altogether, taking into consideration that the brave fellow would
incur no personal risk by remaining upon the island, the captain was
induced with much reluctance to forego the attendance of his servant,
hoping very shortly to return and to restore him to his country,
when he had ascertained the reason of the mysteries in which
they were enveloped.
On the 31st, then, Ben Zoof was "invested with governor's powers,"
and took an affecting leave of his master, begging him, if chance
should carry him near Montmartre, to ascertain whether the beloved
"mountain" had been left unmoved.
Farewells over, the _Dobryna_ was carefully steered through the creek,
and was soon upon the open sea.
A SEARCH FOR ALGERIA
The _Dobryna_, a strong craft of 200 tons burden, had been built
in the famous shipbuilding yards in the Isle of Wight. Her sea
going qualities were excellent, and would have amply sufficed for a
circumnavigation of the globe. Count Timascheff was himself no sailor,
but had the greatest confidence in leaving the command of his yacht
in the hands of Lieutenant Procope, a man of about thirty years of age,
and an excellent seaman. Born on the count's estates, the son
of a serf who had been emancipated long before the famous edict
of the Emperor Alexander, Procope was sincerely attached, by a tie
of gratitude as well as of duty and affection, to his patron's service.
After an apprenticeship on a merchant ship he had entered
the imperial navy, and had already reached the rank of lieutenant
when the count appointed him to the charge of his own private yacht,
in which he was accustomed to spend by far the greater part of his time,
throughout the winter generally cruising in the Mediterranean,
whilst in the summer he visited more northern waters.
The ship could not have been in better hands. The lieutenant was
well informed in many matters outside the pale of his profession,
and his attainments were alike creditable to himself
and to the liberal friend who had given him his education.
He had an excellent crew, consisting of Tiglew the engineer,
four sailors named Niegoch, Tolstoy, Etkef, and Panofka,
and Mochel the cook. These men, without exception, were all sons
of the count's tenants, and so tenaciously, even out at sea,
did they cling to their old traditions, that it mattered little
to them what physical disorganization ensued, so long as they
felt they were sharing the experiences of their lord and master.
The late astounding events, however, had rendered Procope
manifestly uneasy, and not the less so from his consciousness
that the count secretly partook of his own anxiety.
Steam up and canvas spread, the schooner started eastwards.
With a favorable wind she would certainly have made eleven knots
an hour had not the high waves somewhat impeded her progress.
Although only a moderate breeze was blowing, the sea was rough,
a circumstance to be accounted for only by the diminution
in the force of the earth's attraction rendering the liquid
particles so buoyant, that by the mere effect of oscillation
they were carried to a height that was quite unprecedented.
M. Arago has fixed twenty-five or twenty-six feet as the maximum
elevation ever attained by the highest waves, and his astonishment would
have been very great to see them rising fifty or even sixty feet.
Nor did these waves in the usual way partially unfurl themselves
and rebound against the sides of the vessel; they might rather
be described as long undulations carrying the schooner
(its weight diminished from the same cause as that of the water)
alternately to such heights and depths, that if Captain Servadac
had been subject to seasickness he must have found himself in
sorry plight. As the pitching, however, was the result of a long
uniform swell, the yacht did not labor much harder than she would
against the ordinary short strong waves of the Mediterranean;
the main inconvenience that was experienced was the diminution
in her proper rate of speed.
For a few miles she followed the line hitherto presumably occupied
by the coast of Algeria; but no land appeared to the south.
The changed positions of the planets rendered them of no avail
for purposes of nautical observation, nor could Lieutenant Procope
calculate his latitude and longitude by the altitude of the sun,
as his reckonings would be useless when applied to charts that had
been constructed for the old order of things; but nevertheless,
by means of the log, which gave him the rate of progress,
and by the compass which indicated the direction in which they
were sailing, he was able to form an estimate of his position
that was sufficiently free from error for his immediate need.
Happily the recent phenomena had no effect upon the compass;
the magnetic needle, which in these regions had pointed about 22 degrees
from the north pole, had never deviated in the least--a proof that,
although east and west had apparently changed places, north and south
continued to retain their normal position as cardinal points.
The log and the compass, therefore, were able to be called upon
to do the work of the sextant, which had become utterly useless.
On the first morning of the cruise Lieutenant Procope, who,
like most Russians, spoke French fluently, was explaining
these peculiarities to Captain Servadac; the count was present,
and the conversation perpetually recurred, as naturally it would,
to the phenomena which remained so inexplicable to them all.
"It is very evident," said the lieutenant, "that ever since
the 1st of January the earth has been moving in a new orbit,
and from some unknown cause has drawn nearer to the sun."
"No doubt about that," said Servadac; "and I suppose that,
having crossed the orbit of Venus, we have a good chance
of running into the orbit of Mercury."
"And finish up by a collision with the sun!" added the count.
"There is no fear of that, sir. The earth has undoubtedly entered
upon a new orbit, but she is not incurring any probable risk of being
precipitated onto the sun."
"Can you satisfy us of that?" asked the count.
"I can, sir. I can give you a proof which I think you will
own is conclusive. If, as you suppose, the earth is being
drawn on so as to be precipitated against the sun, the great
center of attraction of our system, it could only be because
the centrifugal and centripetal forces that cause the planets
to rotate in their several orbits had been entirely suspended:
in that case, indeed, the earth would rush onwards towards the sun,
and in sixty-four days and a half the catastrophe you dread
would inevitably happen."
"And what demonstration do you offer," asked Servadac eagerly,
"that it will not happen?"
"Simply this, captain: that since the earth entered her new orbit half
the sixty-four days has already elapsed, and yet it is only just recently
that she has crossed the orbit of Venus, hardly one-third of the distance
to be traversed to reach the sun."
The lieutenant paused to allow time for reflection, and added:
"Moreover, I have every reason to believe that we are not so near the sun
as we have been. The temperature has been gradually diminishing;
the heat upon Gourbi Island is not greater now than we might ordinarily
expect to find in Algeria. At the same time, we have the problem
still unsolved that the Mediterranean has evidently been transported
to the equatorial zone."
Both the count and the captain expressed themselves reassured by
his representations, and observed that they must now do all in their
power to discover what had become of the vast continent of Africa,
of which, they were hitherto failing so completely to find a vestige.
Twenty-four hours after leaving the island, the _Dobryna_ had passed over
the sites where Tenes, Cherchil, Koleah, and Sidi-Feruch once had been,
but of these towns not one appeared within range of the telescope.
Ocean reigned supreme. Lieutenant Procope was absolutely certain that
he had not mistaken his direction; the compass showed that the wind had
never shifted from the west, and this, with the rate of speed as estimated
by the log, combined to assure him that at this date, the 2d of February,
the schooner was in lat. 36 degrees 49 min N. and long. 3 degrees 25 min E.,
the very spot which ought to have been occupied by the Algerian capital.
But Algiers, like all the other coast-towns, had apparently been absorbed
into the bowels of the earth.
Captain Servadac, with clenched teeth and knitted brow, stood sternly,
almost fiercely, regarding the boundless waste of water.
His pulse beat fast as he recalled the friends and comrades
with whom he had spent the last few years in that vanished city.
All the images of his past life floated upon his memory;
his thoughts sped away to his native France, only to return again
to wonder whether the depths of ocean would reveal any traces
of the Algerian metropolis.
"Is it not impossible," he murmured aloud, "that any city
should disappear so completely? Would not the loftiest
eminences of the city at least be visible? Surely some
portion of the Casbah must still rise above the waves?
The imperial fort, too, was built upon an elevation of 750 feet;
it is incredible that it should be so totally submerged.
Unless some vestiges of these are found, I shall begin to suspect
that the whole of Africa has been swallowed in some vast abyss."
Another circumstance was most remarkable. Not a material object
of any kind was to be noticed floating on the surface of the water;
not one branch of a tree had been seen drifting by, nor one spar
belonging to one of the numerous vessels that a month previously had
been moored in the magnificent bay which stretched twelve miles across
from Cape Matafuz to Point Pexade. Perhaps the depths might disclose
what the surface failed to reveal, and Count Timascheff, anxious that
Servadac should have every facility afforded him for solving his doubts,
called for the sounding-line. Forthwith, the lead was greased and lowered.
To the surprise of all, and especially of Lieutenant Procope, the line
indicated a bottom at a nearly uniform depth of from four to five fathoms;
and although the sounding was persevered with continuously for more than two
hours over a considerable area, the differences of level were insignificant,
not corresponding in any degree to what would be expected over the site
of a city that had been terraced like the seats of an amphitheater.
Astounding as it seemed, what alternative was left but to suppose
that the Algerian capital had been completely leveled by the flood?
The sea-bottom was composed of neither rock, mud, sand, nor shells;
the sounding-lead brought up nothing but a kind of metallic dust,
which glittered with a strange iridescence, and the nature of which it
was impossible to determine, as it was totally unlike what had ever
been known to be raised from the bed of the Mediterranean.
"You must see, lieutenant, I should think, that we are not so near
the coast of Algeria as you imagined."
The lieutenant shook his head. After pondering awhile, he said:
"If we were farther away I should expect to find a depth of two
or three hundred fathoms instead of five fathoms. Five fathoms!
I confess I am puzzled."
For the next thirty-six hours, until the 4th of February, the sea
was examined and explored with the most unflagging perseverance.
Its depth remained invariable, still four, or at most five, fathoms;
and although its bottom was assiduously dredged, it was only to prove
it barren of marine production of any type.
The yacht made its way to lat. 36 degrees, and by reference to the charts
it was tolerably certain that she was cruising over the site of the Sahel,
the ridge that had separated the rich plain of the Mitidja from the sea,
and of which the highest peak, Mount Boujereah, had reached an altitude
of 1,200 feet; but even this peak, which might have been expected to emerge
like an islet above the surface of the sea, was nowhere to be traced.
Nothing was to be done but to put about, and return in disappointment
towards the north.
Thus the _Dobryna_ regained the waters of the Mediterranean without
discovering a trace of the missing province of Algeria.
AN ISLAND TOMB
No longer, then, could there be any doubt as to the annihilation of a
considerable portion of the colony. Not merely had there been a submersion
of the land, but the impression was more and more confirmed that the very
bowels of the earth must have yawned and closed again upon a large territory.
Of the rocky substratum of the province it became more evident than ever
that not a trace remained, and a new soil of unknown formation had certainly
taken the place of the old sandy sea-bottom. As it altogether transcended
the powers of those on board to elucidate the origin of this catastrophe,
it was felt to be incumbent on them at least to ascertain its extent.
After a long and somewhat wavering discussion, it was at length
decided that the schooner should take advantage of the favorable wind
and weather, and proceed at first towards the east, thus following
the outline of what had formerly represented the coast of Africa,
until that coast had been lost in boundless sea.
Not a vestige of it all remained; from Cape Matafuz to Tunis it had
all gone, as though it had never been. The maritime town of Dellis,
built like Algiers, amphitheater-wise, had totally disappeared;
the highest points were quite invisible; not a trace on the horizon
was left of the Jurjura chain, the topmost point of which was known
to have an altitude of more than 7,000 feet.
Unsparing of her fuel, the _Dobryna_ made her way at full steam towards
Cape Blanc. Neither Cape Negro nor Cape Serrat was to be seen.
The town of Bizerta, once charming in its oriental beauty,
had vanished utterly; its marabouts, or temple-tombs, shaded
by magnificent palms that fringed the gulf, which by reason of its
narrow mouth had the semblance of a lake, all had disappeared,
giving place to a vast waste of sea, the transparent waves of which,
as still demonstrated by the sounding-line, had ever the same uniform
and arid bottom.
In the course of the day the schooner rounded the point where,
five weeks previously, Cape Blanc had been so conspicuous an object,
and she was now stemming the waters of what once had been
the Bay of Tunis. But bay there was none, and the town from
which it had derived its name, with the Arsenal, the Goletta,
and the two peaks of Bou-Kournein, had all vanished from the view.
Cape Bon, too, the most northern promontory of Africa and
the point of the continent nearest to the island of Sicily,
had been included in the general devastation.
Before the occurrence of the recent prodigy, the bottom of
the Mediterranean just at this point had formed a sudden ridge
across the Straits of Libya. The sides of the ridge had shelved
to so great an extent that, while the depth of water on the summit
had been little more than eleven fathoms, that on either hand
of the elevation was little short of a hundred fathoms.
A formation such as this plainly indicated that at some remote
epoch Cape Bon had been connected with Cape Furina, the extremity
of Sicily, in the same manner as Ceuta has doubtless been
connected with Gibraltar.
Lieutenant Procope was too well acquainted with the Mediterranean
to be unaware of this peculiarity, and would not lose the opportunity
of ascertaining whether the submarine ridge still existed, or whether
the sea-bottom between Sicily and Africa had undergone any modification.
Both Timascheff and Servadac were much interested in watching the operations.
At a sign from the lieutenant, a sailor who was stationed at the foot
of the fore-shrouds dropped the sounding-lead into the water, and in reply
to Procope's inquiries, reported--"Five fathoms and a flat bottom."
The next aim was to determine the amount of depression on either
side of the ridge, and for this purpose the _Dobryna_ was shifted
for a distance of half a mile both to the right and left,
and the soundings taken at each station. "Five fathoms and a
flat bottom," was the unvaried announcement after each operation.
Not only, therefore, was it evident that the submerged chain
between Cape Bon and Cape Furina no longer existed, but it was
equally clear that the convulsion had caused a general leveling of
the sea-bottom, and that the soil, degenerated, as it has been said,
into a metallic dust of unrecognized composition, bore no trace
of the sponges, sea-anemones, star-fish, sea-nettles, hydrophytes,
and shells with which the submarine rocks of the Mediterranean
had hitherto been prodigally clothed.
The _Dobryna_ now put about and resumed her explorations in a
southerly direction. It remained, however, as remarkable as ever
how completely throughout the voyage the sea continued to be deserted;
all expectations of hailing a vessel bearing news from Europe were
entirely falsified, so that more and more each member of the crew began
to be conscious of his isolation, and to believe that the schooner,
like a second Noah's ark, carried the sole survivors of a calamity
that had overwhelmed the earth.
On the 9th of February the _Dobryna_ passed over the site of the city of Dido,
the ancient Byrsa--a Carthage, however, which was now more completely
destroyed than ever Punic Carthage had been destroyed by Scipio Afri-canus
or Roman Carthage by Hassan the Saracen.
In the evening, as the sun was sinking below the eastern horizon,
Captain Servadac was lounging moodily against the taffrail.
From the heaven above, where stars kept peeping fitfully from behind
the moving clouds, his eye wandered mechanically to the waters below,
where the long waves were rising and falling with the evening breeze.
All at once, his attention was arrested by a luminous speck straight ahead
on the southern horizon. At first, imagining that he was the victim
of some spectral illusion, he observed it with silent attention;
but when, after some minutes, he became convinced that what he saw
was actually a distant light, he appealed to one of the sailors,
by whom his impression was fully corroborated. The intelligence
was immediately imparted to Count Timascheff and the lieutenant.
"Is it land, do you suppose?" inquired Servadac, eagerly.
"I should be more inclined to think it is a light on board some ship,"
replied the count.
"Whatever it is, in another hour we shall know all about it," said Servadac.
"No, captain," interposed Lieutenant Procope; "we shall know
nothing until to-morrow."
"What! not bear down upon it at once?" asked the count in surprise.
"No, sir; I should much rather lay to and wait till daylight.
If we are really near land, I should be afraid to approach it
in the dark."
The count expressed his approval of the lieutenant's caution,
and thereupon all sail was shortened so as to keep the _Dobryna_
from making any considerable progress all through the hours of night.
Few as those hours were, they seemed to those on board as if their
end would never come. Fearful lest the faint glimmer should at
any moment cease to be visible, Hector Servadac did not quit
his post upon the deck; but the light continued unchanged.
It shone with about the same degree of luster as a star of the
second magnitude, and from the fact of its remaining stationary,
Procope became more and more convinced that it was on land and did
not belong to a passing vessel.
At sunrise every telescope was pointed with keenest interest
towards the center of attraction. The light, of course, had ceased
to be visible, but in the direction where it had been seen,
and at a distance of about ten miles, there was the distinct
outline of a solitary island of very small extent; rather, as the
count observed, it had the appearance of being the projecting summit
of a mountain all but submerged. Whatever it was, it was agreed
that its true character must be ascertained, not only to gratify
their own curiosity, but for the benefit of all future navigators.
The schooner accordingly was steered directly towards it,
and in less than an hour had cast anchor within a few cables'
lengths of the shore.
The little island proved to be nothing more than an arid
rock rising abruptly about forty feet above the water.
It had no outlying reefs, a circumstance that seemed to suggest
the probability that in the recent convulsion it had sunk gradually,
until it had reached its present position of equilibrium.
Without removing his eye from his telescope, Servadac exclaimed:
"There is a habitation on the place; I can see an erection of some
kind quite distinctly. Who can tell whether we shall not come across
a human being?"
Lieutenant Procope looked doubtful. The island had all the appearance
of being deserted, nor did a cannon-shot fired from the schooner have
the effect of bringing any resident to the shore. Nevertheless, it was
undeniable that there was a stone building situated on the top of the rock,
and that this building had much the character of an Arabian mosque.
The boat was lowered and manned by the four sailors;
Servadac, Timascheff and Procope were quickly rowed ashore,
and lost no time in commencing their ascent of the steep acclivity.
Upon reaching the summit, they found their progress arrested
by a kind of wall, or rampart of singular construction,
its materials consisting mainly of vases, fragments of columns,
carved bas-reliefs, statues, and portions of broken stelae, all piled
promiscuously together without any pretense to artistic arrangement.
They made their way into the enclosure, and finding an open door,
they passed through and soon came to a second door,
also open, which admitted them to the interior of the mosque,
consisting of a single chamber, the walls of which were ornamented
in the Arabian style by sculptures of indifferent execution.
In the center was a tomb of the very simplest kind, and above
the tomb was suspended a large silver lamp with a capacious
reservoir of oil, in which floated a long lighted wick,
the flame of which was evidently the light that had attracted
Servadac's attention on the previous night.
"Must there not have been a custodian of the shrine?" they mutually asked;
but if such there had ever been, he must, they concluded, either have fled
or have perished on that eventful night. Not a soul was there in charge,
and the sole living occupants were a flock of wild cormorants which,
startled at the entrance of the intruders, rose on wing, and took a rapid
flight towards the south.
An old French prayer-book was lying on the corner of the tomb;
the volume was open, and the page exposed to view was that
which contained the office for the celebration of the 25th
of August. A sudden revelation dashed across Servadac's mind.
The solemn isolation of the island tomb, the open breviary,
the ritual of the ancient anniversary, all combined to apprise
him of the sanctity of the spot upon which he stood.
"The tomb of St. Louis!" he exclaimed, and his companions
involuntarily followed his example, and made a reverential
obeisance to the venerated monument.
It was, in truth, the very spot on which tradition asserts that
the canonized monarch came to die, a spot to which for six centuries
and more his countrymen had paid the homage of a pious regard.
The lamp that had been kindled at the memorial shrine of a saint
was now in all probability the only beacon that threw a light
across the waters of the Mediterranean, and even this ere long
must itself expire.
There was nothing more to explore. The three together quitted the mosque,
and descended the rock to the shore, whence their boat re-conveyed
them to the schooner, which was soon again on her southward voyage;
and it was not long before the tomb of St. Louis, the only spot that had
survived the mysterious shock, was lost to view.
AT THE MERCY OF THE WINDS
As the affrighted cormorants had winged their flight towards the south,
there sprang up a sanguine hope on board the schooner that land might be
discovered in that direction. Thither, accordingly, it was determined
to proceed, and in a few hours after quitting the island of the tomb,
the _Dobryna_ was traversing the shallow waters that now covered
the peninsula of Dakhul, which had separated the Bay of Tunis from
the Gulf of Hammamet. For two days she continued an undeviating course,
and after a futile search for the coast of Tunis, reached the latitude
of 34 degrees.
Here, on the 11th of February, there suddenly arose the cry of "Land!"
and in the extreme horizon, right ahead, where land had never been before,
it was true enough that a shore was distinctly to be seen.
What could it be? It could not be the coast of Tripoli; for not only
would that low-lying shore be quite invisible at such a distance,
but it was certain, moreover, that it lay two degrees at least still
further south. It was soon observed that this newly discovered land
was of very irregular elevation, that it extended due east and west
across the horizon, thus dividing the gulf into two separate sections
and completely concealing the island of Jerba, which must lie behind.
Its position was duly traced on the _Dobryna_'s chart.
"How strange," exclaimed Hector Servadac, "that after sailing all this
time over sea where we expected to find land, we have at last come upon
land where we thought to find sea!"
"Strange, indeed," replied Lieutenant Procope; "and what appears
to me almost as remarkable is that we have never once caught sight
either of one of the Maltese tartans or one of the Levantine xebecs
that traffic so regularly on the Mediterranean."
"Eastwards or westwards," asked the count--"which shall be our course?
All farther progress to the south is checked."
"Westwards, by all means," replied Servadac quickly.
"I am longing to know whether anything of Algeria is left
beyond the Shelif; besides, as we pass Gourbi Island we might
take Ben Zoof on board, and then make away for Gibraltar,
where we should be sure to learn something, at least,
of European news."
With his usual air of stately courtesy, Count Timascheff
begged the captain to consider the yacht at his own disposal,
and desired him to give the lieutenant instructions accordingly.
Lieutenant Procope, however, hesitated, and after revolving
matters for a few moments in his mind, pointed out that as
the wind was blowing directly from the west, and seemed likely
to increase, if they went to the west in the teeth of the weather,
the schooner would be reduced to the use of her engine only,
and would have much difficulty in making any headway;
on the other hand, by taking an eastward course, not only would
they have the advantage of the wind, but, under steam and canvas,
might hope in a few days to be off the coast of Egypt, and from
Alexandria or some other port they would have the same opportunity
of getting tidings from Europe as they would at Gibraltar.
Intensely anxious as he was to revisit the province of Oran, and eager,
too, to satisfy himself of the welfare of his faithful Ben Zoof, Servadac
could not but own the reasonableness of the lieutenant's objections,
and yielded to the proposal that the eastward course should be adopted.
The wind gave signs only too threatening of the breeze rising to a gale;
but, fortunately, the waves did not culminate in breakers, but rather
in a long swell which ran in the same direction as the vessel.
During the last fortnight the high temperature had been gradually
diminishing, until it now reached an average of 20 degrees Cent.
(or 68 degrees Fahr.), and sometimes descended as low as 15 degrees.
That this diminution was to be attributed to the change in
the earth's orbit was a question that admitted of little doubt.
After approaching so near to the sun as to cross the orbit of Venus,
the earth must now have receded so far from the sun that its normal
distance of ninety-one millions of miles was greatly increased,
and the probability was great that it was approximating to the orbit of Mars,
that planet which in its physical constitution most nearly resembles
our own. Nor was this supposition suggested merely by the lowering
of the temperature; it was strongly corroborated by the reduction
of the apparent diameter of the sun's disc to the precise dimensions
which it would assume to an observer actually stationed on the surface
of Mars. The necessary inference that seemed to follow from these
phenomena was that the earth had been projected into a new orbit,
which had the form of a very elongated ellipse.
Very slight, however, in comparison was the regard which these astronomical
wonders attracted on board the _Dobryna_. All interest there was too much
absorbed in terrestrial matters, and in ascertaining what changes had taken
place in the configuration of the earth itself, to permit much attention
to be paid to its erratic movements through space.
The schooner kept bravely on her way, but well out to sea,
at a distance of two miles from land. There was good need
of this precaution, for so precipitous was the shore that a
vessel driven upon it must inevitably have gone to pieces;
it did not offer a single harbor of refuge, but, smooth and
perpendicular as the walls of a fortress, it rose to a height
of two hundred, and occasionally of three hundred feet.
The waves dashed violently against its base. Upon the general
substratum rested a massive conglomerate, the crystallizations
of which rose like a forest of gigantic pyramids and obelisks.
But what struck the explorers more than anything was the appearance
of singular newness that pervaded the whole of the region.
It all seemed so recent in its formation that the atmosphere had had no
opportunity of producing its wonted effect in softening the hardness
of its lines, in rounding the sharpness of its angles, or in modifying
the color of its surface; its outline was clearly marked against the sky,
and its substance, smooth and polished as though fresh from a founder's mold,
glittered with the metallic brilliancy that is characteristic of pyrites.
It seemed impossible to come to any other conclusion but that the land
before them, continent or island, had been upheaved by subterranean
forces above the surface of the sea, and that it was mainly composed
of the same metallic element as had characterized the dust so frequently
uplifted from the bottom.
The extreme nakedness of the entire tract was likewise very extraordinary.
Elsewhere, in various quarters of the globe, there may be sterile rocks,
but there are none so adamant as to be altogether unfurrowed by the filaments
engendered in the moist residuum of the condensed vapor; elsewhere there may
be barren steeps, but none so rigid as not to afford some hold to vegetation,
however low and elementary may be its type; but here all was bare, and blank,
and desolate--not a symptom of vitality was visible.
Such being the condition of the adjacent land, it could hardly be
a matter of surprise that all the sea-birds, the albatross, the gull,
the sea-mew, sought continual refuge on the schooner; day and night
they perched fearlessly upon the yards, the report of a gun failing
to dislodge them, and when food of any sort was thrown upon the deck,
they would dart down and fight with eager voracity for the prize.
Their extreme avidity was recognized as a proof that any land where they
could obtain a sustenance must be far remote.
Onwards thus for several days the _Dobryna_ followed the contour of
the inhospitable coast, of which the features would occasionally change,
sometimes for two or three miles assuming the form of a simple arris,
sharply defined as though cut by a chisel, when suddenly the prismatic
lamellae soaring in rugged confusion would again recur; but all along
there was the same absence of beach or tract of sand to mark its base,
neither were there any of those shoals of rock that are ordinarily found
in shallow water. At rare intervals there were some narrow fissures, but not
a creek available for a ship to enter to replenish its supply of water;
and the wide roadsteads were unprotected and exposed to well-nigh every
point of the compass.
But after sailing two hundred and forty miles, the progress of the _Dobryna_
was suddenly arrested. Lieutenant Procope, who had sedulously inserted
the outline of the newly revealed shore upon the maps, announced that it
had ceased to run east and west, and had taken a turn due north,
thus forming a barrier to their continuing their previous direction.
It was, of course, impossible to conjecture how far this barrier extended;
it coincided pretty nearly with the fourteenth meridian of east longitude;
and if it reached, as probably it did, beyond Sicily to Italy, it was certain
that the vast basin of the Mediterranean, which had washed the shores
alike of Europe, Asia, and Africa, must have been reduced to about half
its original area.
It was resolved to proceed upon the same plan as heretofore, following
the boundary of the land at a safe distance. Accordingly, the head
of the _Dobryna_ was pointed north, making straight, as it was presumed,
for the south of Europe. A hundred miles, or somewhat over,
in that direction, and it was to be anticipated she would come in sight
of Malta, if only that ancient island, the heritage in succession
of Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Sicilians, Romans, Vandals, Greeks, Arabians,
and the knights of Rhodes, should still be undestroyed.
But Malta, too, was gone; and when, upon the 14th, the sounding-line
was dropped upon its site, it was only with the same result
so oftentimes obtained before.
"The devastation is not limited to Africa," observed the count.
"Assuredly not," assented the lieutenant; adding, "and I confess I
am almost in despair whether we shall ever ascertain its limits.
To what quarter of Europe, if Europe still exists, do you propose
that I should now direct your course?"
"To Sicily, Italy, France!" ejaculated Servadac, eagerly,--"anywhere where we
can learn the truth of what has befallen us."
"How if we are the sole survivors?" said the count, gravely.
Hector Servadac was silent; his own secret presentiment so
thoroughly coincided with the doubts expressed by the count,
that he refrained from saying another word.
The coast, without deviation, still tended towards the north.
No alternative, therefore, remained than to take a westerly course
and to attempt to reach the northern shores of the Mediterranean. On the
l6th the _Dobryna_ essayed to start upon her altered way, but it
seemed as if the elements had conspired to obstruct her progress.
A furious tempest arose; the wind beat dead in the direction
of the coast, and the danger incurred by a vessel of a tonnage
so light was necessarily very great.
Lieutenant Procope was extremely uneasy. He took in all sail,
struck his topmasts, and resolved to rely entirely on his engine.
But the peril seemed only to increase. Enormous waves caught
the schooner and carried her up to their crests, whence again
she was plunged deep into the abysses that they left.
The screw failed to keep its hold upon the water, but continually
revolved with useless speed in the vacant air; and thus,
although the steam was forced on to the extremest limit consistent
with safety, the vessel held her way with the utmost difficulty,
and recoiled before the hurricane.
Still, not a single resort for refuge did the inaccessible
shore present. Again and again the lieutenant asked himself
what would become of him and his comrades, even if they should
survive the peril of shipwreck, and gain a footing upon the cliff.
What resources could they expect to find upon that scene of desolation?
What hope could they entertain that any portion of the old continent
still existed beyond that dreary barrier?
It was a trying time, but throughout it all the crew behaved
with the greatest courage and composure; confident in the skill
of their commander, and in the stability of their ship, they performed
their duties with steadiness and unquestioning obedience.
But neither skill, nor courage, nor obedience could avail;
all was in vain. Despite the strain put upon her engine,
the schooner, bare of canvas (for not even the smallest stay-sail
could have withstood the violence of the storm), was drifting with
terrific speed towards the menacing precipices, which were only a.
few short miles to leeward. Fully alive to the hopelessness
of their situation, the crew were all on deck.
"All over with us, sir!" said Procope to the count.
"I have done everything that man could do; but our case
is desperate. Nothing short of a miracle can save us now.
Within an hour we must go to pieces upon yonder rocks."
"Let us, then, commend ourselves to the providence of Him
to Whom nothing is impossible," replied the count, in a calm,
clear voice that could be distinctly heard by all; and as he spoke,
he reverently uncovered, an example in which he was followed
by all the rest.
The destruction of the vessel seeming thus inevitable,
Lieutenant Procope took the best measures he could to insure
a few days' supply of food for any who might escape ashore.
He ordered several cases of provisions and kegs of water to be
brought on deck, and saw that they were securely lashed to some
empty barrels, to make them float after the ship had gone down.
Less and less grew the distance from the shore, but no creek,
no inlet, could be discerned in the towering wall of cliff,
which seemed about to topple over and involve them in annihilation.
Except a change of wind or, as Procope observed, a supernatural
rifting of the rock, nothing could bring deliverance now.
But the wind did not veer, and in a few minutes more the schooner
was hardly three cables' distance from the fatal land.
All were aware that their last moment had arrived.
Servadac and the count grasped each other's hands for a long farewell;
and, tossed by the tremendous waves, the schooner was on the very point
of being hurled upon the cliff, when a ringing shout was heard.
"Quick, boys, quick! Hoist the jib, and right the tiller!"
Sudden and startling as the unexpected orders were, they were executed
as if by magic.
The lieutenant, who had shouted from the bow, rushed astern and took the helm,
and before anyone had time to speculate upon the object of his maneuvers,
he shouted again, "Look out! sharp! watch the sheets!"
An involuntary cry broke forth from all on board.
But it was no cry of terror. Right ahead was a narrow
opening in the solid rock; it was hardly forty feet wide.
Whether it was a passage or no, it mattered little;
it was at least a refuge; and, driven by wind and wave,
the _Dobryna_, under the dexterous guidance of the lieutenant,
dashed in between its perpendicular walls.
Had she not immured herself in a perpetual prison?
A ROYAL SALUTE
"Then I take your bishop, major," said Colonel Murphy, as he made
a move that he had taken since the previous evening to consider.
"I was afraid you would," replied Major Oliphant, looking intently
at the chess-board.
Such was the way in which a long silence was broken on the morning
of the 17th of February by the old calendar.
Another day elapsed before another move was made. It was a protracted game;
it had, in fact, already lasted some months--the players being so deliberate,
and so fearful of taking a step without the most mature consideration,
that even now they were only making the twentieth move.
Both of them, moreover, were rigid disciples of the renowned Philidor,
who pronounces that to play the pawns well is "the soul of chess";
and, accordingly, not one pawn had been sacrificed without
a most vigorous defense.
The men who were thus beguiling their leisure were two
officers in the British army--Colonel Heneage Finch Murphy
and Major Sir John Temple Oliphant. Remarkably similar in
personal appearance, they were hardly less so in personal character.
Both of them were about forty years of age; both of them were tall
and fair, with bushy whiskers and mustaches; both of them were
phlegmatic in temperament, and both much addicted to the wearing
of their uniforms. They were proud of their nationality, and exhibited
a manifest dislike, verging upon contempt, of everything foreign.
Probably they would have felt no surprise if they had been told
that Anglo-Saxons were fashioned out of some specific clay,
the properties of which surpassed the investigation of chemical analysis.
Without any intentional disparagement they might, in a certain way,
be compared to two scarecrows which, though perfectly harmless
in themselves, inspire some measure of respect, and are excellently
adapted to protect the territory intrusted to their guardianship.
English-like, the two officers had made themselves thoroughly at home
in the station abroad in which it had been their lot to be quartered.
The faculty of colonization seems to be indigenous to the native character;
once let an Englishman plant his national standard on the surface of the moon,
and it would not be long before a colony was established round it.
The officers had a servant, named Kirke, and a company of ten
soldiers of the line. This party of thirteen men were apparently
the sole survivors of an overwhelming catastrophe, which on the 1st
of January had transformed an enormous rock, garrisoned with well-nigh
two thousand troops, into an insignificant island far out to sea.
But although the transformation had been so marvelous, it cannot
be said that either Colonel Murphy or Major Oliphant had made much
demonstration of astonishment.
"This is all very peculiar, Sir John," observed the colonel.
"Yes, colonel; very peculiar," replied the major.
"England will be sure to send for us," said one officer.
"No doubt she will," answered the other.
Accordingly, they came to the mutual resolution that they would
"stick to their post."
To say the truth, it would have been a difficult matter for
the gallant officers to do otherwise; they had but one small boat;
therefore, it was well that they made a virtue of necessity,
and resigned themselves to patient expectation of the British
ship which, in due time, would bring relief.
They had no fear of starvation. Their island was mined with subterranean
stores, more than ample for thirteen men--nay, for thirteen Englishmen--
for the next five years at least. Preserved meat, ale, brandy--all were
in abundance; consequently, as the men expressed it, they were in this
respect "all right."
Of course, the physical changes that had taken place had attracted the notice
both of officers and men. But the reversed position of east and west,
the diminution of the force of gravity, the altered rotation of the earth,
and her projection upon a new orbit, were all things that gave them little
concern and no uneasiness; and when the colonel and the major had replaced
the pieces on the board which had been disturbed by the convulsion,
any surprise they might have felt at the chess-men losing some portion
of their weight was quite forgotten in the satisfaction of seeing them
retain their equilibrium.
One phenomenon, however, did not fail to make its due impression upon
the men; this was the diminution in the length of day and night.
Three days after the catastrophe, Corporal Pim, on behalf of himself
and his comrades, solicited a formal interview with the officers.
The request having been granted, Pim, with the nine soldiers,
all punctiliously wearing the regimental tunic of scarlet and trousers
of invisible green, presented themselves at the door of the colonel's room,
where he and his brother-officer were continuing their game.
Raising his hand respectfully to his cap, which he wore poised jauntily
over his right ear, and scarcely held on by the strap below his under lip,
the corporal waited permission to speak.
After a lingering survey of the chess-board, the colonel slowly
lifted his eyes, and said with official dignity, "Well, men,
what is it?"
"First of all, sir," replied the corporal, "we want to speak to you
about our pay, and then we wish to have a word with the major
about our rations."
"Say on, then," said Colonel Murphy. "What is it about your pay?"
"Just this, sir; as the days are only half as long as they were,
we should like to know whether our pay is to be diminished in proportion."
The colonel was taken somewhat aback, and did not reply immediately,
though by some significant nods towards the major,
he indicated that he thought the question very reasonable.
After a few moments' reflection, he replied, "It must, I think,
be allowed that your pay was calculated from sunrise to sunrise;
there was no specification of what the interval should be.
Your pay will continue as before. England can afford it."
A buzz of approval burst involuntarily from all the men, but military
discipline and the respect due to their officers kept them in check
from any boisterous demonstration of their satisfaction.
"And now, corporal, what is your business with me?" asked Major Oliphant.
"We want to know whether, as the days are only six hours long,
we are to have but two meals instead of four?"
The officers looked at each other, and by their glances agreed
that the corporal was a man of sound common sense.
"Eccentricities of nature," said the major, "cannot interfere with
military regulations. It is true that there will be but an interval
of an hour and a half between them, but the rule stands good--
four meals a day. England is too rich to grudge her soldiers any
of her soldiers' due. Yes; four meals a day."
"Hurrah!" shouted the soldiers, unable this time to keep their delight
within the bounds of military decorum; and, turning to the right-about,
they marched away, leaving the officers to renew the all-absorbing game.
However confident everyone upon the island might profess
to be that succor would be sent them from their native land--
for Britain never abandons any of her sons--it could not be disguised
that that succor was somewhat tardy in making its appearance.
Many and various were the conjectures to account for the delay.
Perhaps England was engrossed with domestic matters,
or perhaps she was absorbed in diplomatic difficulties;
or perchance, more likely than all, Northern Europe had received
no tidings of the convulsion that had shattered the south.
The whole party throve remarkably well upon the liberal provisions
of the commissariat department, and if the officers failed
to show the same tendency to _embonpoint_ which was fast becoming
characteristic of the men, it was only because they deemed it due
to their rank to curtail any indulgences which might compromise
the fit of their uniform.
On the whole, time passed indifferently well. An Englishman rarely suffers
from _ennui_, and then only in his own country, when required to conform
to what he calls "the humbug of society"; and the two officers, with their
similar tastes, ideas, and dispositions, got on together admirably.
It is not to be questioned that they were deeply affected by a sense
of regret for their lost comrades, and astounded beyond measure at finding
themselves the sole survivors of a garrison of 1,895 men, but with true
British pluck and self-control, they had done nothing more than draw up
a report that 1,882 names were missing from the muster-roll.
The island itself, the sole surviving fragment of an enormous pile
of rock that had reared itself some 1,600 feet above the sea,
was not, strictly speaking, the only land that was visible;
for about twelve miles to the south there was another island,
apparently the very counterpart of what was now occupied
by the Englishmen. It was only natural that this should
awaken some interest even in the most imperturbable minds,
and there was no doubt that the two officers, during one of
the rare intervals when they were not absorbed in their game,
had decided that it would be desirable at least to ascertain
whether the island was deserted, or whether it might not be
occupied by some others, like themselves, survivors from
the general catastrophe. Certain it is that one morning,
when the weather was bright and calm, they had embarked alone
in the little boat, and been absent for seven or eight hours.
Not even to Corporal Pim did they communicate the object of
their excursion, nor say one syllable as to its result, and it
could only be inferred from their manner that they were quite
satisfied with what they had seen; and very shortly afterwards
Major Oliphant was observed to draw up a lengthy document,
which was no sooner finished than it was formally signed and
sealed with the seal of the 33rd Regiment. It was directed:
_To the First Lord of the Admiralty,
and kept in readiness for transmission by the first ship that should
hail in sight. But time elapsed, and here was the l8th of February
without an opportunity having been afforded for any communication
with the British Government.
At breakfast that morning, the colonel observed to the major
that he was under the most decided impression that the l8th
of February was a royal anniversary; and he went on to say that,
although he had received no definite instructions on the subject,
he did not think that the peculiar circumstances under which they
found themselves should prevent them from giving the day its
due military honors.
The major quite concurred; and it was mutually agreed that the occasion
must be honored by a bumper of port, and by a royal salute.
Corporal Pim must be sent for. The corporal soon made his appearance,
smacking his lips, having, by a ready intuition, found a pretext
for a double morning ration of spirits.
"The l8th of February, you know, Pim," said the colonel;
"we must have a salute of twenty-one guns."
"Very good," replied Pim, a man of few words.
"And take care that your fellows don't get their arms and legs blown off,"
added the officer.
"Very good, sir," said the corporal; and he made his salute and withdrew.
Of all the bombs, howitzers, and various species of artillery with
which the fortress had been crowded, one solitary piece remained.
This was a cumbrous muzzle-loader of 9-inch caliber, and, in default
of the smaller ordnance generally employed for the purpose,
had to be brought into requisition for the royal salute.
A sufficient number of charges having been provided, the corporal brought his
men to the reduct, whence the gun's mouth projected over a sloping embrasure.
The two officers, in cocked hats and full staff uniform, attended to take
charge of the proceedings. The gun was maneuvered in strict accordance
with the rules of "The Artilleryman's Manual," and the firing commenced.
Not unmindful of the warning he had received, the corporal was most careful
between each discharge to see that every vestige of fire was extinguished,
so as to prevent an untimely explosion while the men were reloading;
and accidents, such as so frequently mar public rejoicings,
were all happily avoided.
Much to the chagrin of both Colonel Murphy and Major Oliphant,
the effect of the salute fell altogether short of their anticipations.
The weight of the atmosphere was so reduced that there was
comparatively little resistance to the explosive force of the gases,
liberated at the cannon's mouth, and there was consequently none
of the reverberation, like rolling thunder, that ordinarily follows
the discharge of heavy artillery.
Twenty times had the gun been fired, and it was on the point of being loaded
for the last time, when the colonel laid his hand upon the arm of the man
who had the ramrod. "Stop!" he said; "we will have a ball this time.
Let us put the range of the piece to the test."
"A good idea!" replied the major. "Corporal, you hear the orders."
In quick time an artillery-wagon was on the spot, and the men
lifted out a full-sized shot, weighing 200 lbs., which,
under ordinary circumstances, the cannon would carry about four miles.
It was proposed, by means of telescopes, to note the place
where the ball first touched the water, and thus to obtain
an approximation sufficiently accurate as to the true range.
Having been duly charged with powder and ball, the gun was raised to an angle
of something under 45 degrees, so as to allow proper development to the curve
that the projectile would make, and, at a signal from the major, the light
was applied to the priming.
"Heavens!" "By all that's good!" exclaimed both officers
in one breath, as, standing open-mouthed, they hardly knew
whether they were to believe the evidence of their own senses.
"Is it possible?"
The diminution of the force of attraction at the earth's surface
was so considerable that the ball had sped beyond the horizon.
"Incredible!" ejaculated the colonel.
"Incredible!" echoed the major.
"Six miles at least!" observed the one.
"Ay, more than that!" replied the other.
Awhile, they gazed at the sea and at each other in mute amazement. But in
the midst of their perplexity, what sound was that which startled them?
Was it mere fancy? Was it the reverberation of the cannon still booming
in their ears? Or was it not truly the report of another and a distant
gun in answer to their own? Attentively and eagerly they listened.
Twice, thrice did the sound repeat itself. It was quite distinct.
There could be no mistake.
"I told you so," cried the colonel, triumphantly. "I knew our country
would not forsake us; it is an English ship, no doubt."
In half an hour two masts were visible above the horizon. "See! Was I
not right? Our country was sure to send to our relief.
Here is the ship."
"Yes," replied the major; "she responded to our gun."
"It is to be hoped," muttered the corporal, "that our ball has done
her no damage."
Before long the hull was full in sight. A long trail of smoke betokened
her to be a steamer; and very soon, by the aid of the glass, it could
be ascertained that she was a schooner-yacht, and making straight
for the island. A flag at her mast-head fluttered in the breeze,
and towards this the two officers, with the keenest attention,
respectively adjusted their focus.
Simultaneously the two telescopes were lowered. The colonel
and the major stared at each other in blank astonishment.
"Russian!" they gasped.
And true it was that the flag that floated at the head of yonder mast
was the blue cross of Russia.
When the schooner had approached the island, the Englishmen were able to make
out the name "_Dobryna_" painted on the aft-board. A sinuous irregularity
of the coast had formed a kind of cove, which, though hardly spacious enough
for a few fishing-smacks, would afford the yacht a temporary anchorage,
so long as the wind did not blow violently from either west or south.
Into this cove the _Dobryna_ was duly signaled, and as soon as she
was safely moored, she lowered her four-oar, and Count Timascheff and
Captain Servadac made their way at once to land.
Colonel Heneage Finch Murphy and Major Sir John Temple Oliphant stood,
grave and prim, formally awaiting the arrival of their visitors.
Captain Servadac, with the uncontrolled vivacity natural to a Frenchman,
was the first to speak.
"A joyful sight, gentlemen!" he exclaimed. "It will give us unbounded
pleasure to shake hands again with some of our fellow-creatures. You,
no doubt, have escaped the same disaster as ourselves."
But the English officers, neither by word nor gesture, made the slightest
acknowledgment of this familiar greeting.
"What news can you give us of France, England, or Russia?" continued Servadac,
perfectly unconscious of the stolid rigidity with which his advances
were received. "We are anxious to hear anything you can tell us.
Have you had communications with Europe? Have you--"
"To whom have we the honor of speaking?" at last interposed
Colonel Murphy, in the coldest and most measured tone,
and drawing himself up to his full height.
"Ah! how stupid! I forgot," said Servadac, with the slightest possible
shrug of the shoulders; "we have not been introduced."
Then, with a wave of his hand towards his companion, who meanwhile had
exhibited a reserve hardly less than that of the British officers, he said:
"Allow me to introduce you to Count Wassili Timascheff."
" Major Sir John Temple Oliphant," replied the colonel.
The Russian and the Englishman mutually exchanged the stiffest of bows.
"I have the pleasure of introducing Captain Servadac,"
said the count in his turn.
"And this is Colonel Heneage Finch Murphy," was the major's grave rejoinder.
More bows were interchanged and the ceremony brought to its due conclusion.
It need hardly be said that the conversation had been carried on in French,
a language which is generally known both by Russians and Englishmen--
a circumstance that is probably in some measure to be accounted for by
the refusal of Frenchmen to learn either Russian or English.
The formal preliminaries of etiquette being thus complete,
there was no longer any obstacle to a freer intercourse.
The colonel, signing to his guests to follow, led the way
to the apartment occupied jointly by himself and the major,
which, although only a kind of casemate hollowed in the rock,
nevertheless wore a general air of comfort. Major Oliphant
accompanied them, and all four having taken their seats,
the conversation was commenced.
Irritated and disgusted at all the cold formalities,
Hector Servadac resolved to leave all the talking to the count;
and he, quite aware that the Englishmen would adhere to the fiction
that they could be supposed to know nothing that had transpired
previous to the introduction felt himself obliged to recapitulate
matters from the very beginning.
"You must be aware, gentlemen," began the count, "that a most
singular catastrophe occurred on the 1st of January last.
Its cause, its limits we have utterly failed to discover,
but from the appearance of the island on which we find you here,
you have evidently experienced its devastating consequences."
The Englishmen, in silence, bowed assent.
"Captain Servadac, who accompanies me," continued the count,
"has been most severely tried by the disaster. Engaged as he was
in an important mission as a staff-officer in Algeria--"
"A French colony, I believe," interposed Major Oliphant, half shutting
his eyes with an expression of supreme indifference.
Servadac was on the point of making some cutting retort,
but Count Timascheff, without allowing the interruption to be noticed,
calmly continued his narrative:
"It was near the mouth of the Shelif that a portion of Africa, on that
eventful night, was transformed into an island which alone survived;
the rest of the vast continent disappeared as completely as if it
had never been."
The announcement seemed by no means startling to the phlegmatic colonel.
"Indeed!" was all he said.
"And where were you?" asked Major Oliphant.
"I was out at sea, cruising in my yacht; hard by; and I look upon
it as a miracle, and nothing less, that I and my crew escaped
with our lives."
"I congratulate you on your luck," replied the major.
The count resumed: "It was about a month after the great disruption
that I was sailing--my engine having sustained some damage in the shock--
along the Algerian coast, and had the pleasure of meeting with my
previous acquaintance, Captain Servadac, who was resident upon the island
with his orderly, Ben Zoof."
"Ben who?" inquired the major.
"Zoof! Ben Zoof!" ejaculated Servadac, who could scarcely shout
loud enough to relieve his pent-up feelings.
Ignoring this ebullition of the captain's spleen, the count went on to say:
"Captain Servadac was naturally most anxious to get what news he could.
Accordingly, he left his servant on the island in charge of his horses,
and came on board the _Dobryna_ with me. We were quite at a loss to know
where we should steer, but decided to direct our course to what previously
had been the east, in order that we might, if possible, discover the colony
of Algeria; but of Algeria not a trace remained."
The colonel curled his lip, insinuating only too plainly that to him
it was by no means surprising that a French colony should be wanting
in the element of stability. Servadac observed the supercilious look,
and half rose to his feet, but, smothering his resentment, took his seat
again without speaking.
"The devastation, gentlemen," said the count, who persistently refused
to recognize the Frenchman's irritation, "everywhere was terrible
and complete. Not only was Algeria lost, but there was no trace of Tunis,
except one solitary rock, which was crowned by an ancient tomb of one
of the kings of France--"
"Louis the Ninth, I presume," observed the colonel.
"Saint Louis," blurted out Servadac, savagely.
Colonel Murphy slightly smiled.
Proof against all interruption, Count Timascheff, as if he had not heard it,
went on without pausing. He related how the schooner had pushed her way
onwards to the south, and had reached the Gulf of Cabes; and how she had
ascertained for certain that the Sahara Sea had no longer an existence.
The smile of disdain again crossed the colonel's face;
he could not conceal his opinion that such a destiny for the work
of a Frenchman could be no matter of surprise.
"Our next discovery," continued the count, "was that a new coast
had been upheaved right along in front of the coast of Tripoli,
the geological formation of which was altogether strange, and which
extended to the north as far as the proper place of Malta."
"And Malta," cried Servadac, unable to control himself any longer;
"Malta--town, forts, soldiers, governor, and all--has vanished
just like Algeria."
For a moment a cloud rested upon the colonel's brow, only to give
place to an expression of decided incredulity.
"The statement seems highly incredible," he said.
"Incredible?" repeated Servadac. "Why is it that you doubt my word?"
The captain's rising wrath did not prevent the colonel from replying coolly,
"Because Malta belongs to England."
"I can't help that," answered Servadac, sharply; "it has gone
just as utterly as if it had belonged to China."
Colonel Murphy turned deliberately away from Servadac,
and appealed to the count: "Do you not think you may have made
some error, count, in reckoning the bearings of your yacht?"
"No, colonel, I am quite certain of my reckonings; and not only can
I testify that Malta has disappeared, but I can affirm that a large
section of the Mediterranean has been closed in by a new continent.
After the most anxious investigation, we could discover only one narrow
opening in all the coast, and it is by following that little channel
that we have made our way hither. England, I fear, has suffered grievously
by the late catastrophe. Not only has Malta been entirely lost,
but of the Ionian Islands that were under England's protection,
there seems to be but little left."
"Ay, you may depend upon it," said Servadac, breaking in upon
the conversation petulantly, "your grand resident lord high
commissioner has not much to congratulate himself about in
the condition of Corfu."
The Englishmen were mystified.
"Corfu, did you say?" asked Major Oliphant.
"Yes, Corfu; I said Corfu," replied Servadac, with a sort
of malicious triumph.
The officers were speechless with astonishment.
The silence of bewilderment was broken at length by Count Timascheff
making inquiry whether nothing had been heard from England,
either by telegraph or by any passing ship.
"No," said the colonel; "not a ship has passed; and the cable is broken."
"But do not the Italian telegraphs assist you?" continued the count.
"Italian! I do not comprehend you. You must mean the Spanish, surely."
"How?" demanded Timascheff.
"Confound it!" cried the impatient Servadac. "What matters whether
it be Spanish or Italian? Tell us, have you had no communication
at all from Europe?--no news of any sort from London?"
"Hitherto, none whatever," replied the colonel; adding with a
stately emphasis, "but we shall be sure to have tidings from
England before long."
"Whether England is still in existence or not, I suppose,"
said Servadac, in a tone of irony.
The Englishmen started simultaneously to their feet.
"England in existence?" the colonel cried. "England! Ten times
more probable that France--"
"France!" shouted Servadac in a passion. "France is not an island that
can be submerged; France is an integral portion of a solid continent.
France, at least, is safe."
A scene appeared inevitable, and Count Timascheff's efforts to conciliate
the excited parties were of small avail.
"You are at home here," said Servadac, with as much calmness
as he could command; "it will be advisable, I think,
for this discussion to be carried on in the open air."
And hurriedly he left the room. Followed immediately by the others,
he led the way to a level piece of ground, which he considered
he might fairly claim as neutral territory.
"Now, gentlemen," he began haughtily, "permit me to represent that,
in spite of any loss France may have sustained in the fate
of Algeria, France is ready to answer any provocation that affects
her honor. Here I am the representative of my country, and here,
on neutral ground--"
"Neutral ground?" objected Colonel Murphy; "I beg your pardon.
This, Captain Servadac, is English territory. Do you not see
the English flag?" and, as he spoke, he pointed with national pride
to the British standard floating over the top of the island.
"Pshaw!" cried Servadac, with a contemptuous sneer; "that flag,
you know, has been hoisted but a few short weeks."
"That flag has floated where it is for ages," asserted the colonel.
"An imposture!" shouted Servadac, as he stamped with rage.
Recovering his composure in a degree, he continued:
"Can you suppose that I am not aware that this island on which we
find you is what remains of the Ionian representative republic,
over which you English exercise the right of protection,
but have no claim of government?"
The colonel and the major looked at each other in amazement.
Although Count Timascheff secretly sympathized with Servadac,
he had carefully refrained from taking part in the dispute;
but he was on the point of interfering, when the colonel,
in a greatly subdued tone, begged to be allowed to speak.
"I begin to apprehend," he said, "that you must be la-boring under some
strange mistake. There is no room for questioning that the territory
here is England's--England's by right of conquest; ceded to England
by the Treaty of Utrecht. Three times, indeed--in 1727, 1779, and 1792--
France and Spain have disputed our title, but always to no purpose.
You are, I assure you, at the present moment, as much on English soil
as if you were in London, in the middle of Trafalgar Square."
It was now the turn of the captain and the count to look surprised.
"Are we not, then, in Corfu?" they asked.
"You are at Gibraltar," replied the colonel.
Gibraltar! The word fell like a thunderclap upon their ears.
Gibraltar! the western extremity of the Mediterranean! Why, had they
not been sailing persistently to the east? Could they be wrong
in imagining that they had reached the Ionian Islands? What new
mystery was this?
Count Timascheff was about to proceed with a more rigorous investigation,
when the attention of all was arrested by a loud outcry.
Turning round, they saw that the crew of the _Dobryna_ was in
hot dispute with the English soldiers. A general altercation
had arisen from a disagreement between the sailor Panofka
and Corporal Pim. It had transpired that the cannon-ball fired
in experiment from the island had not only damaged one of the spars
of the schooner, but had broken Panofka's pipe, and, moreover, had just
grazed his nose, which, for a Russian's, was unusually long.
The discussion over this mishap led to mutual recriminations,
till the sailors had almost come to blows with the garrison.
Servadac was just in the mood to take Panofka's part, which drew
from Major Oliphant the remark that England could not be held
responsible for any accidental injury done by her cannon,
and if the Russian's long nose came in the way of the ball,
the Russian must submit to the mischance.
This was too much for Count Timascheff, and having poured
out a torrent of angry invective against the English officers,
he ordered his crew to embark immediately.
"We shall meet again," said Servadac, as they pushed off from shore.
"Whenever you please," was the cool reply.
The geographical mystery haunted the minds of both the count
and the captain, and they felt they could never rest till they
had ascertained what had become of their respective countries.
They were glad to be on board again, that they might r�sum�
their voyage of investigation, and in two hours were out of sight
of the sole remaining fragment of Gibraltar.
AN ENIGMA FROM THE SEA
Lieutenant Procope had been left on board in charge of the _Dobryna_,
and on resuming the voyage it was a task of some difficulty
to make him understand the fact that had just come to light.
Some hours were spent in discussion and in attempting to penetrate
the mysteries of the situation.
There were certain things of which they were perfectly certain.
They could be under no misapprehension as to the distance they
had positively sailed from Gourbi Island towards the east
before their further progress was arrested by the unknown shore;
as nearly as possible that was fifteen degrees; the length
of the narrow strait by which they had made their way across
that land to regain the open sea was about three miles and a half;
thence onward to the island, which they had been assured,
on evidence that they could not disbelieve, to be upon
the site of Gibraltar, was four degrees; while from Gibraltar
to Gourbi Island was seven degrees or but little more.
What was it altogether? Was it not less than thirty degrees?
In that latitude, the degree of longitude represents eight
and forty miles. What, then, did it all amount to?
Indubitably, to less than 1,400 miles. So brief a voyage would bring
the _Dobryna_ once again to her starting-point, or, in other words,
would enable her to complete the circumnavigation of the globe.
How changed the condition of things! Previously, to sail from
Malta to Gibraltar by an eastward course would have involved
the passage of the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean,
the Pacific, the Atlantic; but what had happened now?
Why, Gibraltar had been reached as if it had been just at Corfu,
and some three hundred and thirty degrees of the earth's circuit
had vanished utterly.
After allowing for a certain margin of miscalculation, the main fact
remained undeniable; and the necessary inference that Lieutenant Procope
drew from the round of the earth being completed in 1 ,400 miles,
was that the earth's diameter had been reduced by about fifteen
sixteenths of its length.
"If that be so," observed the count, "it accounts for some
of the strange phenomena we witness. If our world has become
so insignificant a spheroid, not only has its gravity diminished,
but its rotary speed has been accelerated; and this affords an
adequate explanation of our days and nights being thus curtailed.
But how about the new orbit in which we are moving?"
He paused and pondered, and then looked at Procope as though
awaiting from him some further elucidation of the difficulty.
The lieutenant hesitated. When, in a few moments, he began
to speak, Servadac smiled intelligently, anticipating the answer
he was about to hear.
"My conjecture is," said Procope, "that a fragment of considerable magnitude
has been detached from the earth; that it has carried with it an envelope
of the earth's atmosphere, and that it is now traveling through the solar
system in an orbit that does not correspond at all with the proper orbit
of the earth."
The hypothesis was plausible; but what a multitude of bewildering
speculations it entailed! If, in truth, a certain mass had been broken
off from the terrestrial sphere, whither would it wend its way?
What would be the measure of the eccentricity of its path?
What would be its period round the sun? Might it not, like a comet,
be carried away into the vast infinity of space? or, on the other hand,
might it not be attracted to the great central source of light and heat,
and be absorbed in it? Did its orbit correspond with the orbit
of the ecliptic? and was there no chance of its ever uniting again
with the globe, from which it had been torn off by so sudden and
violent a disruption?
A thoughtful silence fell upon them all, which Servadac was the first
to break. "Lieutenant," he said, "your explanation is ingenious,
and accounts for many appearances; but it seems to me that in one
point it fails."
"How so?" replied Procope. "To my mind the theory meets all objections."
"I think not," Servadac answered. "In one point, at least,
it appears to me to break down completely."
"What is that?" asked the lieutenant.
"Stop a moment," said the captain. "Let us see that we understand
each other right. Unless I mistake you, your hypothesis is that a
fragment of the earth, comprising the Mediterranean and its shores
from Gibraltar to Malta, has been developed into a new asteroid,
which is started on an independent orbit in the solar regions.
Is not that your meaning?"
"Precisely so," the lieutenant acquiesced.
"Well, then," continued Servadac, "it seems to me to be at
fault in this respect: it fails, and fails completely,
to account for the geological character of the land that we
have found now encompassing this sea. Why, if the new land is
a fragment of the old--why does it not retain its old formation?
What has become of the granite and the calcareous deposits?
How is it that these should all be changed into a mineral
concrete with which we have no acquaintance?"
No doubt, it was a serious objection; for, however likely it might
be that a mass of the earth on being detached would be eccentric
in its movements, there was no probable reason to be alleged why
the material of its substance should undergo so complete a change.
There was nothing to account for the fertile shores, rich in vegetation,
being transformed into rocks arid and barren beyond precedent.
The lieutenant felt the difficulty, and owned himself unprepared to give at
once an adequate solution; nevertheless, he declined to renounce his theory.
He asserted that the arguments in favor of it carried conviction to his mind,
and that he entertained no doubt but that, in the course of time,
all apparently antagonistic circumstances would be explained so as to become
consistent with the view he took. He was careful, however, to make it
understood that with respect to the original cause of the disruption
he had no theory to offer; and although he knew what expansion
might be the result of subterranean forces, he did not venture to say
that he considered it sufficient to produce so tremendous an effect.
The origin of the catastrophe was a problem still to be solved.
"Ah! well," said Servadac, "I don't know that it matters much
where our new little planet comes from, or what it is made of,
if only it carries France along with it."
"And Russia," added the count.
"And Russia, of course," said Servadac, with a polite bow.
There was, however, not much room for this sanguine expectation,
for if a new asteroid had thus been brought into existence,
it must be a sphere of extremely limited dimensions, and there could
be little chance that it embraced more than the merest fraction
of either France or Russia. As to England, the total cessation
of all telegraphic communication between her shores and Gibraltar
was a virtual proof that England was beyond its compass.
And what was the true measurement of the new little world?
At Gourbi Island the days and nights were of equal length,
and this seemed to indicate that it was situated on the equator;
hence the distance by which the two poles stood apart would
be half what had been reckoned would be the distance completed
by the _Dobryna_ in her circuit. That distance had been already
estimated to be something under 1,400 miles, so that the Arctic Pole
of their recently fashioned world must be about 350 miles to the north,
and the Antarctic about 350 miles to the south of the island.
Compare these calculations with the map, and it is at once
apparent that the northernmost limit barely touched the coast
of Provence, while the southernmost reached to about lat.
20 degrees N., and fell in the heart of the desert.
The practical test of these conclusions would be made by
future investigation, but meanwhile the fact appeared very much
to strengthen the presumption that, if Lieutenant Procope
had not arrived at the whole truth, he had made a considerable
advance towards it.
The weather, ever since the storm that had driven the _Dobryna_
into the creek, had been magnificent. The wind continued favorable,
and now under both steam and canvas, she made a rapid progress towards
the north, a direction in which she was free to go in consequence
of the total disappearance of the Spanish coast, from Gibraltar right
away to Alicante. Malaga, Almeria, Cape Gata, Car-thagena. Cape Palos--
all were gone. The sea was rolling over the southern extent of the peninsula,
so that the yacht advanced to the latitude of Seville before it sighted
any land at all, and then, not shores such as the shores of Andalusia,
but a bluff and precipitous cliff, in its geological features resembling
exactly the stern and barren rock that she had coasted beyond the site
of Malta. Here the sea made a decided indentation on the coast;
it ran up in an acute-angled triangle till its apex coincided with
the very spot upon which Madrid had stood. But as hitherto the sea
had encroached upon the land, the land in its turn now encroached
upon the sea; for a frowning headland stood out far into the basin
of the Mediterranean, and formed a promontory stretching out beyond
the proper places of the Balearic Isles. Curiosity was all alive.
There was the intensest interest awakened to determine whether no
vestige could be traced of Majorca, Minorca, or any of the group,
and it was during a deviation from the direct course for the purpose
of a more thorough scrutiny, that one of the sailors raised a thrill
of general excitement by shouting, "A bottle in the sea!"
Here, then, at length was a communication from the outer world.
Surely now they would find a document which would throw
some light upon all the mysteries that had happened?
Had not the day now dawned that should set their speculations
all at rest?
It was the morning of the 21st of February. The count,
the captain, the lieutenant, everybody hurried to the forecastle;
the schooner was dexterously put about, and all was eager
impatience until the supposed bottle was hauled on deck.
It was not, however, a bottle; it proved to be a round leather
telescope-case, about a foot long, and the first thing
to do before investigating its contents was to make a careful
examination of its exterior. The lid was fastened on by wax,
and so securely that it would take a long immersion before any
water could penetrate; there was no maker's name to be deciphered;
but impressed very plainly with a seal on the wax were the two
initials "P. R."
When the scrutiny of the outside was finished, the wax was removed
and the cover opened, and the lieutenant drew out a slip of ruled paper,
evidently torn from a common note-book. The paper had an inscription
written in four lines, which were remarkable for the profusion of notes
of admiration and interrogation with which they were interspersed:
_Ab sole_, au 15 fev. 59,000,000 1. !
Chemin parcouru de janv. a fev. 82,000,000 1. !!
_Va bene! All right!!_ Parfait!!!"
There was a general sigh of disappointment. They turned
the paper over and over, and handed it from one to another.
"What does it all mean?" exclaimed the count.
"Something mysterious here!" said Servadac. "But yet,"
he continued, after a pause, "one thing is tolerably certain:
on the 15th, six days ago, someone was alive to write it."
"Yes; I presume there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of the date,"
assented the count.
To this strange conglomeration of French, English, Italian, and Latin,
there was no signature attached; nor was there anything to give a clue
as to the locality in which it had been committed to the waves.
A telescope-case would probably be the property of some one on board
a ship; and the figures obviously referred to the astronomical wonders
that had been experienced.
To these general observations Captain Servadac objected that
he thought it unlikely that any one on board a ship would use
a telescope-case for this purpose, but would be sure to use
a bottle as being more secure; and, accordingly, he should rather
be inclined to believe that the message had been set afloat
by some _savant_ left alone, perchance, upon some isolated coast.
"But, however interesting it might be," observed the count,
"to know the author of the lines, to us it is of far greater
moment to ascertain their meaning."
And taking up the paper again, he said, "Perhaps we might analyze it
word by word, and from its detached parts gather some clue to its sense
as a whole."
"What can be the meaning of all that cluster of interrogations
after Gallia?" asked Servadac.
Lieutenant Procope, who had hitherto not spoken, now broke his silence
by saying, "I beg, gentlemen, to submit my opinion that this document
goes very far to confirm my hypothesis that a fragment of the earth
has been precipitated into space."
Captain Servadac hesitated, and then replied, "Even if it does,
I do not see how it accounts in the least for the geological
character of the new asteroid."
"But will you allow me for one minute to take my supposition
for granted?" said Procope. "If a new little planet has been formed,
as I imagine, by disintegration from the old, I should conjecture
that Gallia is the name assigned to it by the writer of this paper.
The very notes of interrogation are significant that he was in doubt
what he should write."
"You would presume that he was a Frenchman?" asked the count.
"I should think so," replied the lieutenant.
"Not much doubt about that," said Servadac; "it is all in French,
except a few scattered words of English, Latin, and Italian,
inserted to attract attention. He could not tell into whose
hands the message would fall first."
"Well, then," said Count Timascheff, "we seem to have found a name
for the new world we occupy."
"But what I was going especially to observe," continued the lieutenant,
"is that the distance, 59,000,000 leagues, represents precisely
the distance we ourselves were from the sun on the 15th.
It was on that day we crossed the orbit of Mars."
"Yes, true," assented the others.
"And the next line," said the lieutenant, after reading it aloud,
"apparently registers the distance traversed by Gallia, the new little planet,
in her own orbit. Her speed, of course, we know by Kepler's laws,
would vary according to her distance from the sun, and if she were--
as I conjecture from the temperature at that date--on the 15th of January
at her perihelion, she would be traveling twice as fast as the earth,
which moves at the rate of between 50,000 and 60,000 miles an hour."
"You think, then," said Servadac, with a smile, "you have determined
the perihelion of our orbit; but how about the aphelion?
Can you form a judgment as to what distance we are likely
to be carried?"
"You are asking too much," remonstrated the count.
"I confess," said the lieutenant, "that just at present I
am not able to clear away the uncertainty of the future;
but I feel confident that by careful observation at various
points we shall arrive at conclusions which not only will
determine our path, but perhaps may clear up the mystery about
our geological structure."
"Allow me to ask," said Count Timascheff, "whether such a new asteroid would
not be subject to ordinary mechanical laws, and whether, once started,
it would not have an orbit that must be immutable?"
"Decidedly it would, so long as it was undisturbed by the attraction
of some considerable body; but we must recollect that, compared to
the great planets, Gallia must be almost infinitesimally small,
and so might be attracted by a force that is irresistible."
"Altogether, then," said Servadac, "we seem to have settled it to our
entire satisfaction that we must be the population of a young little
world called Gallia. Perhaps some day we may have the honor of being
registered among the minor planets."
"No chance of that," quickly rejoined Lieutenant Procope. "Those minor
planets all are known to rotate in a narrow zone between the orbits
of Mars and Jupiter; in their perihelia they cannot approximate the sun
as we have done; we shall not be classed with them."
"Our lack of instruments," said the count, "is much to be deplored;
it baffles our investigations in every way."
"Ah, never mind! Keep up your courage, count!" said Servadac, cheerily.
And Lieutenant Procope renewed his assurances that he entertained
good hopes that every perplexity would soon be solved.
"I suppose," remarked the count, " that we cannot attribute much importance
to the last line: _'Va bene! All right!!_ Parfait!!!'"
The captain answered, "At least, it shows that whoever wrote it
had no murmuring or complaint to make, but was quite content
with the new order of things."
THE RESIDUUM OF A CONTINENT
Almost unconsciously, the voyagers in the _Dobryna_ fell into the habit
of using Gallia as the name of the new world in which they became aware they
must be making an extraordinary excursion through the realms of space.
Nothing, however, was allowed to divert them from their ostensible object
of making a survey of the coast of the Mediterranean, and accordingly they
persevered in following that singular boundary which had revealed itself
to their extreme astonishment.
Having rounded the great promontory that had barred her farther
progress to the north, the schooner skirted its upper edge.
A few more leagues and they ought to be abreast of the shores
of France. Yes, of France.
But who shall describe the feelings of Hector Servadac when,
instead of the charming outline of his native land,
he beheld nothing but a solid boundary of savage rock?
Who shall paint the look of consternation with which he gazed upon
the stony rampart--rising perpendicularly for a thousand feet--
that had replaced the shores of the smiling south?
Who shall reveal the burning anxiety with which he throbbed
to see beyond that cruel wall?
But there seemed no hope. Onwards and onwards the yacht made
her way, and still no sign of France. It might have been supposed
that Servadac's previous experiences would have prepared him
for the discovery that the catastrophe which had overwhelmed
other sites had brought destruction to his own country as well.
But he had failed to realize how it might extend to France;
and when now he was obliged with his own eyes to witness
the waves of ocean rolling over what once had been the lovely
shores of Provence, he was well-nigh frantic with desperation.
"Am I to believe that Gourbi Island, that little shred of Algeria,
constitutes all that is left of our glorious France? No, no;
it cannot be. Not yet have we reached the pole of our new world.
There is--there must be--something more behind that frowning rock.
Oh, that for a moment we could scale its towering height and look beyond!
By Heaven, I adjure you, let us disembark, and mount the summit and explore!
France lies beyond."
Disembarkation, however, was an utter impossibility. There was no
semblance of a creek in which the _Dobryna_ could find an anchorage.
There was no outlying ridge on which a footing could be gained.
The precipice was perpendicular as a wall, its topmost height crowned
with the same conglomerate of crystallized lamellae that had all along
been so pronounced a feature.
With her steam at high pressure, the yacht made rapid progress towards
the east. The weather remained perfectly fine, the temperature
became gradually cooler, so that there was little prospect of vapors
accumulating in the atmosphere; and nothing more than a few cirri,
almost transparent, veiled here and there the clear azure of the sky.
Throughout the day the pale rays of the sun, apparently lessened
in its magnitude, cast only faint and somewhat uncertain shadows;
but at night the stars shone with surpassing brilliancy. Of the planets,
some, it was observed, seemed to be fading away in remote distance.
This was the case with Mars, Venus, and that unknown orb which was moving
in the orbit of the minor planets; but Jupiter, on the other hand,
had assumed splendid proportions; Saturn was superb in its luster,
and Uranus, which hitherto had been imperceptible without a telescope
was pointed out by Lieutenant Procope, plainly visible to the naked eye.
The inference was irresistible that Gallia was receding from the sun,
and traveling far away across the planetary regions.
On the 24th of February, after following the sinuous course of what before
the date of the convulsion had been the coast line of the department of Var,
and after a fruitless search for Hyeres, the peninsula of St. Tropez,
the Lerius Islands, and the gulfs of Cannes and Jouar, the _Dobryna_ arrived
upon the site of the Cape of Antibes.
Here, quite unexpectedly, the explorers made the discovery that the massive
wall of cliff had been rent from the top to the bottom by a narrow rift,
like the dry bed of a mountain torrent, and at the base of the opening,
level with the sea, was a little strand upon which there was just space
enough for their boat to be hauled up.
"Joy! joy!" shouted Servadac, half beside himself with ecstasy;
"we can land at last!"
Count Timascheff and the lieutenant were scarcely less impatient than
the captain, and little needed his urgent and repeated solicitations:
"Come on! Quick! Come on! no time to lose!"
It was half-past seven in the morning, when they set their foot upon
this untried land. The bit of strand was only a few square yards
in area, quite a narrow strip. Upon it might have been recognized
some fragments of that agglutination of yellow limestone which is
characteristic of the coast of Provence. But the whole party was far
too eager to wait and examine these remnants of the ancient shore;
they hurried on to scale the heights.
The narrow ravine was not only perfectly dry, but manifestly had never been
the bed of any mountain torrent. The rocks that rested at the bottom--
just as those which formed its sides--were of the same lamellous formation
as the entire coast, and had not hitherto been subject to the disaggregation
which the lapse of time never fails to work. A skilled geologist would
probably have been able to assign them their proper scientific classification,
but neither Servadac, Timascheff, nor the lieutenant could pretend to any
acquaintance with their specific character.
Although, however, the bottom of the chasm had never as yet been the channel
of a stream, indications were not wanting that at some future time it would
be the natural outlet of accumulated waters; for already, in many places,
thin layers of snow were glittering upon the surface of the fractured rocks,
and the higher the elevation that was gained, the more these layers were found
to increase in area and in depth.
"Here is a trace of fresh water, the first that Gallia has exhibited,"
said the count to his companions, as they toiled up the precipitous path.
"And probably," replied the lieutenant, "as we ascend we shall find not
only snow but ice. We must suppose this Gallia of ours to be a sphere,
and if it is so, we must now be very close to her Arctic regions;
it is true that her axis is not so much inclined as to prolong day
and night as at the poles of the earth, but the rays of the sun must
reach us here only very obliquely, and the cold, in all likelihood,
will be intense."
"So cold, do you think," asked Servadac, "that animal life must be extinct?"
"I do not say that, captain," answered the lieutenant;
"for, however far our little world may be removed from the sun,
I do not see why its temperature should fall below what prevails in
those outlying regions beyond our system where sky and air are not."
"And what temperature may that be?" inquired the captain
with a shudder.
"Fourier estimates that even in those vast unfathomable tracts,
the temperature never descends lower than 60 degrees," said Procope.
"Sixty! Sixty degrees below zero!" cried the count.
"Why, there's not a Russian could endure it!"
"I beg your pardon, count. It is placed on record that the English _have_
survived it, or something quite approximate, upon their Arctic expeditions.
When Captain Parry was on Melville Island, he knew the thermometer to fall
to 56 degrees," said Procope.
As the explorers advanced, they seemed glad to pause from time to time,
that they might recover their breath; for the air, becoming more and
more rarefied, made respiration somewhat difficult and the ascent fatiguing.
Before they had reached an altitude of 600 feet they noticed a sensible
diminution of the temperature; but neither cold nor fatigue deterred them,
and they were resolved to persevere. Fortunately, the deep striae or furrows
in the surface of the rocks that made the bottom of the ravine in some degree
facilitated their progress, but it was not until they had been toiling up
for two hours more that they succeeded in reaching the summit of the cliff.
Eagerly and anxiously did they look around. To the south there
was nothing but the sea they had traversed; to the north,
nothing but one drear, inhospitable stretch.
Servadac could not suppress a cry of dismay. Where was his
beloved France? Had he gained this arduous height only to behold
the rocks carpeted with ice and snow, and reaching interminably
to the far-off horizon? His heart sank within him.
The whole region appeared to consist of nothing but the same strange,
uniform mineral conglomerate, crystallized into regular hexagonal prisms.
But whatever was its geological character, it was only too evident
that it had entirely replaced the former soil, so that not
a vestige of the old continent of Europe could be discerned.
The lovely scenery of Provence, with the grace of its rich and
undulating landscape; its gardens of citrons and oranges rising
tier upon tier from the deep red soil--all, all had vanished.
Of the vegetable kingdom, there was not a single representative;
the most meager of Arctic plants, the most insignificant of lichens,
could obtain no hold upon that stony waste. Nor did the animal world
assert the feeblest sway. The mineral kingdom reigned supreme.
Captain Servadac's deep dejection was in strange contrast to his
general hilarity. Silent and tearful, he stood upon an ice-bound rock,
straining his eyes across the boundless vista of the mysterious territory.
"It cannot be!" he exclaimed. "We must somehow have mistaken our bearings.
True, we have encountered this barrier; but France is there beyond!