Part 6 out of 7
by means of lamps and lanterns. Among the stores were several
barrels of oil and a considerable quantity of spirits of wine,
which might be burned when required for cooking purposes.
Moreover, it would be unnecessary for them to confine
themselves entirely to the seclusion of their gloomy residence;
well wrapped up, there would be nothing to prevent them making
occasional excursions both to the Hive and to the sea-shore.
A supply of fresh water would be constantly required;
ice for this purpose must be perpetually carried in from the coast,
and it would be necessary to arrange that everyone in turn
should perform this office, as it would be no sinecure to clamber
up the sides of the crater for 900 feet, and descend the same
distance with a heavy burden.
But the emergency was great, and it was accordingly soon decided
that the little colony should forthwith take up its quarters
in the cave. After all, they said, they should hardly be much
worse off than thousands who annually winter in Arctic regions.
On board the whaling-vessels, and in the establishments
of the Hudson's Bay Company, such luxuries as separate cabins
or sleeping-chambers are never thought of; one large apartment,
well heated and ventilated, with as few corners as possible,
is considered far more healthy; and on board ship the entire hold,
and in forts a single floor, is appropriated to this purpose.
The recollection of this fact served to reconcile them,
in a great degree, to the change to which they felt it
requisite to submit.
Having remounted the ascent, they made the result of their exploration known
to the mass of the community, who received the tidings with a sense of relief,
and cordially accepted the scheme of the migration.
The first step was to clear the cavern of its accumulation of ashes,
and then the labor of removal commenced in earnest. Never was a task
undertaken with greater zest. The fear of being to a certainty frozen
to death if they remained where they were, was a stimulus that made
everyone put forth all his energies. Beds, furniture, cooking utensils--
first the stores of the _Dobryna_, then the cargo of the tartan--
all were carried down with the greatest alacrity, and the diminished
weight combined with the downhill route to make the labor proceed
with incredible briskness.
Although Professor Rosette yielded to the pressure of circumstances,
and allowed himself to be conducted to the lower regions, nothing would
induce him to allow his telescope to be carried underground;
and as it was undeniable that it would certainly be of no service
deep down in the bowels of the mountain, it was allowed to remain
undisturbed upon its tripod in the great hall of Nina's Hive.
As for Isaac Hakkabut, his outcry was beyond description lamentable.
Never, in the whole universe, had a merchant met with such reverses;
never had such a pitiable series of losses befallen an unfortunate man.
Regardless of the ridicule which his abject wretchedness excited,
he howled on still, and kept up an unending wail; but meanwhile
he kept a keen eye upon every article of his property, and amidst
universal laughter insisted on having every item registered in an
inventory as it was transferred to its appointed place of safety.
Servadac considerately allowed the whole of the cargo to be deposited
in a hollow apart by itself, over which the Jew was permitted to keep
a watch as vigilant as he pleased.
By the 10th the removal was accomplished. Rescued, at all events,
from the exposure to a perilous temperature of 60 degrees below zero,
the community was installed in its new home. The large cave was
lighted by the _Dobryna's_ lamps, while several lanterns, suspended at
intervals along the acclivity that led to their deserted quarters above,
gave a weird picturesqueness to the scene, that might vie with any
of the graphic descriptions of the "Arabian Nights' Entertainments."
"How do you like this, Nina?" said Ben Zoof.
"_Va bene!_" replied the child. "We are only living in the cellars
instead of upon the ground floor."
"We will try and make ourselves comfortable," said the orderly.
"Oh yes, we will be happy here," rejoined the child; "it is nice and warm."
Although they were as careful as they could to conceal
their misgivings from the rest, Servadac and his two friends
could not regard their present situation without distrust.
When alone, they would frequently ask each other what would become
of them all, if the volcanic heat should really be subsiding,
or if some unexpected perturbation should retard the course of
the comet, and compel them to an indefinitely prolonged residence
in their grim abode. It was scarcely likely that the comet could
supply the fuel of which ere long they would be in urgent need.
Who could expect to find coal in the bowels of Gallia,--coal, which is
the residuum of ancient forests mineralized by the lapse of ages?
Would not the lava-cinders exhumed from the extinct volcano
be their last poor resource?
"Keep up your spirits, my friends," said Servadac; "we have plenty of time
before us at present. Let us hope that as fresh difficulties arise,
fresh ways of escape will open. Never despair!"
"True," said the count; "it is an old saying that 'Necessity is the mother
of invention.' Besides, I should think it very unlikely that the internal
heat will fail us now before the summer."
The lieutenant declared that he entertained the same hope.
As the reason of his opinion he alleged that the combustion
of the eruptive matter was most probably of quite recent origin,
because the comet before its collision with the earth had
possessed no atmosphere, and that consequently no oxygen could
have penetrated to its interior.
"Most likely you are right," replied the count; "and so far from dreading
a failure of the internal heat, I am not quite sure that we may not be exposed
to a more terrible calamity still?"
"What?" asked Servadac.
"The calamity of the eruption breaking out suddenly again,
and taking us by surprise."
"Heavens!" cried the captain, "we will not think of that."
"The outbreak may happen again," said the lieutenant, calmly; "but it will
be our fault, our own lack of vigilance, if we are taken by surprise."
And so the conversation dropped.
The 15th of January dawned; and the comet was 220,000,000 leagues
from the sun.
Gallia had reached its aphelion.
Henceforth, then, with a velocity ever increasing, Gallia would
re-approach the sun.
Except the thirteen Englishmen who had been left at Gibraltar,
every living creature had taken refuge in the dark abyss
of the volcano's crater.
And with those Englishmen, how had it fared?
"Far better than with ourselves," was the sentiment that would
have been universally accepted in Nina's Hive. And there was every
reason to conjecture that so it was. The party at Gibraltar,
they all agreed, would not, like themselves, have been compelled
to have recourse to a stream of lava for their supply of heat;
they, no doubt, had had abundance of fuel as well as food;
and in their solid casemate, with its substantial walls,
they would find ample shelter from the rigor of the cold.
The time would have been passed at least in comfort, and perhaps
in contentment; and Colonel Murphy and Major Oliphant would have
had leisure more than sufficient for solving the most abstruse
problems of the chess-board. All of them, too, would be happy
in the confidence that when the time should come, England would
have full meed of praise to award to the gallant soldiers
who had adhered so well and so manfully to their post.
It did, indeed, more than once occur to the minds both of
Servadac and his friends that, if their condition should become
one of extreme emergency, they might, as a last resource,
betake themselves to Gibraltar, and there seek a refuge;
but their former reception had not been of the kindest,
and they were little disposed to renew an acquaintanceship
that was marked by so little cordiality. Not in the least
that they would expect to meet with any inhospitable rebuff.
Far from that; they knew well enough that Englishmen,
whatever their faults, would be the last to abandon their
fellow-creatures in the hour of distress. Nevertheless, except the
necessity became far more urgent than it had hitherto proved,
they resolved to endeavor to remain in their present quarters.
Up till this time no casualties had diminished their original number,
but to undertake so long a journey across that unsheltered
expanse of ice could scarcely fail to result in the loss of some
of their party.
However great was the desire to find a retreat for every living thing
in the deep hollow of the crater, it was found necessary to slaughter
almost all the domestic animals before the removal of the community
from Nina's Hive. To have stabled them all in the cavern below would
have been quite impossible, whilst to have left them in the upper
galleries would only have been to abandon them to a cruel death;
and since meat could be preserved for an indefinite time in the original
store-places, now colder than ever, the expedient of killing the animals
seemed to recommend itself as equally prudent and humane.
Naturally the captain and Ben Zoof were most anxious that their favorite
horses should be saved, and accordingly, by dint of the greatest care,
all difficulties in the way were overcome, and Zephyr and Galette
were conducted down the crater, where they were installed in a large
hole and provided with forage, which was still abundant.
Birds, subsisting only on scraps thrown out to them did not cease
to follow the population in its migration, and so numerous did they
become that multitudes of them had repeatedly to be destroyed.
The general re-arrangement of the new residence was no easy business,
and occupied so much time that the end of January arrived before
they could be said to be fairly settled. And then began a life
of dreary monotony. Then seemed to creep over everyone a kind
of moral torpor as well as physical lassitude, which Servadac,
the count, and the lieutenant did their best not only to combat
in themselves, but to counteract in the general community.
They provided a variety of intellectual pursuits; they instituted
debates in which everybody was encouraged to take part; they read aloud,
and explained extracts from the elementary manuals of science,
or from the books of adventurous travel which their library supplied;
and Russians and Spaniards, day after day, might be seen gathered
round the large table, giving their best attention to instruction
which should send them back to Mother Earth less ignorant than they
had left her.
Selfish and morose, Hakkabut could never be induced to be present
at these social gatherings. He was far too much occupied in his own
appropriated corner, either in conning his accounts, or in counting
his money. Altogether, with what he had before, he now possessed
the round sum of 150,000 francs, half of which was in sterling gold;
but nothing could give him any satisfaction while he knew that the days
were passing, and that he was denied the opportunity of putting out his
capital in advantageous investments, or securing a proper interest.
Neither did Palmyrin Rosette find leisure to take any share in
the mutual intercourse. His occupation was far too absorbing for him
to suffer it to be interrupted, and to him, living as he did perpetually
in a world of figures, the winter days seemed neither long nor wearisome.
Having ascertained every possible particular about his comet,
he was now devoting himself with equal ardor to the analysis of all
the properties of the satellite Nerina, to which he appeared to assert
the same claim of proprietorship.
In order to investigate Nerina it was indispensable that he should
make several actual observations at various points of the orbit;
and for this purpose he repeatedly made his way up to the grotto above,
where, in spite of the extreme severity of the cold, he would
persevere in the use of his telescope till he was all but paralyzed.
But what he felt more than anything was the want of some retired apartment,
where he could pursue his studies without hindrance or intrusion.
It was about the beginning of February, when the professor brought
his complaint to Captain Servadac, and begged him to assign
him a chamber, no matter how small, in which he should be free
to carry on his task in silence and without molestation.
So readily did Servadac promise to do everything in his power
to provide him with the accommodation for which he asked,
that the professor was put into such a manifest good temper
that the captain ventured to speak upon the matter that was ever
uppermost in his mind.
"I do not mean," he began timidly, "to cast the least imputation
of inaccuracy upon any of your calculations, but would you
allow me, my dear professor, to suggest that you should revise
your estimate of the duration of Gallia's period of revolution.
It is so important, you know, so all important; the difference
of one half minute, you know, would so certainly mar the expectation
of reunion with the earth--"
And seeing a cloud gathering on Rosette's face, he added:
"I am sure Lieutenant Procope would be only too happy to render
you any assistance in the revision."
"Sir," said the professor, bridling up, "I want no assistant;
my calculations want no revision. I never make an error.
I have made my reckoning as far as Gallia is concerned.
I am now making a like estimate of the elements of Nerina."
Conscious how impolitic it would be to press this matter further, the captain
casually remarked that he should have supposed that all the elements
of Nerina had been calculated long since by astronomers on the earth.
It was about as unlucky a speech as he could possibly have made.
The professor glared at him fiercely.
"Astounding, sir!" he exclaimed. "Yes! Nerina was a planet then;
everything that appertained to the planet was determined;
but Nerina is a moon now. And do you not think, sir, that we have
a right to know as much about our moon as those _terrestrials_"--
and he curled his lip as he spoke with a contemptuous
emphasis--"know of theirs?"
"I beg pardon," said the corrected captain.
"Well then, never mind," replied the professor, quickly appeased;
"only will you have the goodness to get me a proper place for study?"
"I will, as I promised, do all I can," answered Servadac.
"Very good," said the professor. "No immediate hurry;
an hour hence will do."
But in spite of this condescension on the part of the man of science,
some hours had to elapse before any place of retreat could be discovered
likely to suit his requirements; but at length a little nook was found
in the side of the cavern just large enough to hold an armchair and a table,
and in this the astronomer was soon ensconced to his entire satisfaction.
Buried thus, nearly 900 feet below ground, the Gallians
ought to have had unbounded mental energy to furnish an
adequate reaction to the depressing monotony of their existence;
but many days would often elapse without any one of them ascending
to the surface of the soil, and had it not been for the necessity
of obtaining fresh water, it seemed almost probable that there
would never have been an effort made to leave the cavern at all.
A few excursions, it is true, were made in the downward direction.
The three leaders, with Ben Zoof, made their way to the lower
depths of the crater, not with the design of making any further
examination as to the nature of the rock--for although it
might be true enough that it contained thirty per cent.
of gold, it was as valueless to them as granite--but with
the intention of ascertaining whether the subterranean fire
still retained its activity. Satisfied upon this point,
they came to the conclusion that the eruption which had so suddenly
ceased in one spot had certainly broken out in another.
February, March, April, May, passed wearily by; but day
succeeded to day with such gloomy sameness that it was little
wonder that no notice was taken of the lapse of time.
The people seemed rather to vegetate than to live,
and their want of vigor became at times almost alarming.
The readings around the long table ceased to be attractive,
and the debates, sustained by few, became utterly wanting
in animation. The Spaniards could hardly be roused to quit
their beds, and seemed to have scarcely energy enough to eat.
The Russians, constitutionally of more enduring temperament,
did not give way to the same extent, but the long and
drear confinement was beginning to tell upon them all.
Servadac, the count, and the lieutenant all knew well enough
that it was the want of air and exercise that was the cause
of much of this mental depression; but what could they do?
The most serious remonstrances on their part were entirely in vain.
In fact, they themselves occasionally fell a prey to the same
lassitude both of body and mind. Long fits of drowsiness,
combined with an utter aversion to food, would come over them.
It almost seemed as if their entire nature had become degenerate,
and that, like tortoises, they could sleep and fast till
the return of summer.
Strange to say, little Nina bore her hardships more bravely than
any of them. Flitting about, coaxing one to eat, another to drink,
rousing Pablo as often as he seemed yielding to the common languor,
the child became the life of the party. Her merry prattle enlivened
the gloom of the grim cavern like the sweet notes of a bird;
her gay Italian songs broke the monotony of the depressing silence;
and almost unconscious as the half-dormant population of Gallia
were of her influence, they still would have missed her bright
presence sorely. The months still glided on; how, it seemed
impossible for the inhabitants of the living tomb to say.
There was a dead level of dullness.
At the beginning of June the general torpor appeared slightly to relax
its hold upon its victims. This partial revival was probably due
to the somewhat increased influence of the sun, still far, far away.
During the first half of the Gallian year, Lieutenant Procope had
taken careful note of Rosette's monthly announcements of the comet's
progress, and he was able now, without reference to the professor,
to calculate the rate of advance on its way back towards the sun.
He found that Gallia had re-crossed the orbit of Jupiter, but was
still at the enormous distance of 197,000,000 leagues from the sun,
and he reckoned that in about four months it would have entered
the zone of the telescopic planets.
Gradually, but uninterruptedly, life and spirits continued to revive,
and by the end of the month Servadac and his little colony had
regained most of their ordinary physical and mental energies.
Ben Zoof, in particular, roused himself with redoubled vigor,
like a giant refreshed from his slumbers. The visits, consequently,
to the long-neglected galleries of Nina's Hive became more
and more frequent.
One day an excursion was made to the shore. It was still bitterly cold,
but the atmosphere had lost nothing of its former stillness, and not a cloud
was visible from horizon to zenith. The old footmarks were all as distinct
as on the day in which they had been imprinted, and the only portion
of the shore where any change was apparent was in the little creek.
Here the elevation of the ice had gone on increasing, until the schooner
and the tartan had been uplifted to a height of 150 feet, not only rendering
them quite inaccessible, but exposing them to all but certain destruction
in the event of a thaw.
Isaac Hakkabut, immovable from the personal oversight of his property
in the cavern, had not accompanied the party, and consequently
was in blissful ignorance of the fate that threatened his vessel.
"A good thing the old fellow wasn't there to see," observed Ben Zoof;
"he would have screamed like a peacock. What a misfortune it is,"
he added, speaking to himself, "to have a peacock's voice,
without its plumage!"
During the months of July and August, Gallia advanced 164,000,000
leagues along her orbit. At night the cold was still intense,
but in the daytime the sun, here full upon the equator,
caused an appreciable difference of 20 degrees in the temperature.
Like birds, the population spent whole days exposed to its
grateful warmth, rarely returning till nightfall to the shade
of their gloomy home.
This spring-time, if such it may be called, had a most enlivening
influence upon all. Hope and courage revived as day by day
the sun's disc expanded in the heavens, and every evening
the earth assumed a greater magnitude amongst the fixed stars.
It was distant yet, but the goal was cheeringly in view.
"I can't believe that yonder little speck of light contains my mountain
of Montmartre," said Ben Zoof, one night, after he had been gazing long
and steadily at the far-off world.
"You will, I hope, some day find out that it does," answered his master.
"I hope so," said the orderly, without moving his eye from
the distant sphere. After meditating a while, he spoke again.
"I suppose Professor Rosette couldn't make his comet go
straight back, could he?"
"Hush!" cried Servadac.
Ben Zoof understood the correction.
"No," continued the captain; "it is not for man to disturb the order
of the universe. That belongs to a Higher Power than ours!"
THE PROFESSOR PERPLEXED
Another month passed away, and it was now September, but it was
still impossible to leave the warmth of the subterranean retreat
for the more airy and commodious quarters of the Hive, where "the bees"
would certainly have been frozen to death in their cells.
It was altogether quite as much a matter of congratulation as of
regret that the volcano showed no symptoms of resuming its activity;
for although a return of the eruption might have rendered their
former resort again habitable, any sudden outbreak would have been
disastrous to them where they were, the crater being the sole outlet
by which the burning lava could escape.
"A wretched time we have had for the last seven months,"
said the orderly one day to his master; "but what a comfort
little Nina has been to us all!"
"Yes, indeed," replied Servadac; "she is a charming little creature.
I hardly know how we should have got on without her."
"What is to become of her when we arrive back at the earth?"
"Not much fear, Ben Zoof, but that she will be well taken care of.
Perhaps you and I had better adopt her."
"Ay, yes," assented the orderly. "You can be her father,
and I can be her mother."
Servadac laughed. "Then you and I shall be man and wife."
"We have been as good as that for a long time," observed Ben Zoof, gravely.
By the beginning of October, the temperature had so far moderated that it
could scarcely be said to be intolerable. The comet's distance was
scarcely three times as great from the sun as the earth from the sun,
so that the thermometer rarely sunk beyond 35 degrees below zero.
The whole party began to make almost daily visits to the Hive, and frequently
proceeded to the shore, where they resumed their skating exercise,
rejoicing in their recovered freedom like prisoners liberated from a dungeon.
Whilst the rest were enjoying their recreation, Servadac and the count
would hold long conversations with Lieutenant Procope about their present
position and future prospects, discussing all manner of speculations
as to the results of the anticipated collision with the earth,
and wondering whether any measures could be devised for mitigating
the violence of a shock which might be terrible in its consequences,
even if it did not entail a total annihilation of themselves.
There was no visitor to the Hive more regular than Rosette. He had already
directed his telescope to be moved back to his former observatory, where,
as much as the cold would permit him, he persisted in making his all-absorbing
studies of the heavens.
The result of these studies no one ventured to inquire;
but it became generally noticed that something was very seriously
disturbing the professor's equanimity. Not only would he be seen
toiling more frequently up the arduous way that lay between his nook
below and his telescope above, but he would be heard muttering
in an angry tone that indicated considerable agitation.
One day, as he was hurrying down to his study, he met Ben Zoof, who,
secretly entertaining a feeling of delight at the professor's manifest
discomfiture, made some casual remark about things not being very straight.
The way in which his advance was received the good orderly never divulged,
but henceforward he maintained the firm conviction that there was something
very much amiss up in the sky.
To Servadac and his friends this continual disquietude and ill-humor
on the part of the professor occasioned no little anxiety.
From what, they asked, could his dissatisfaction arise?
They could only conjecture that he had discovered some flaw
in his reckonings; and if this were so, might there not be reason
to apprehend that their anticipations of coming into contact
with the earth, at the settled time, might all be falsified?
Day followed day, and still there was no cessation of the
professor's discomposure. He was the most miserable of mortals. If really
his calculations and his observations were at variance, this, in a man
of his irritable temperament, would account for his perpetual perturbation.
But he entered into no explanation; he only climbed up to his telescope,
looking haggard and distressed, and when compelled by the frost to retire,
he would make his way back to his study more furious than ever.
At times he was heard giving vent to his vexation. "Confound it!
what does it mean? what is she doing? All behind! Is Newton a fool?
Is the law of universal gravitation the law of universal nonsense?"
And the little man would seize his head in both his hands, and tear
away at the scanty locks which he could ill afford to lose.
Enough was overheard to confirm the suspicion that there was some
irreconcilable discrepancy between the results of his computation
and what he had actually observed; and yet, if he had been called
upon to say, he would have sooner insisted that there was derangement
in the laws of celestial mechanism, than have owned there was
the least probability of error in any of his own calculations.
Assuredly, if the poor professor had had any flesh to lose he would
have withered away to a shadow.
But this state of things was before long to come to an end.
On the 12th, Ben Zoof, who was hanging about outside the great
hall of the cavern, heard the professor inside utter a loud cry.
Hurrying in to ascertain the cause, he found Rosette in a state
of perfect frenzy, in which ecstasy and rage seemed to be struggling
for the predominance.
"Eureka! Eureka!" yelled the excited astronomer.
"What, in the name of peace, do you mean?" bawled Ben Zoof,
in open-mouthed amazement.
"Eureka!" again shrieked the little man.
"How? What? Where?" roared the bewildered orderly.
"Eureka! I say," repeated Rosette; "and if you don't understand me,
you may go to the devil!"
Without availing himself of this polite invitation, Ben Zoof betook himself
to his master. "Something has happened to the professor," he said;
"he is rushing about like a madman, screeching and yelling 'Eureka!'"
"Eureka?" exclaimed Servadac. "That means he has made a discovery;"
and, full of anxiety, he hurried off to meet the professor.
But, however great was his desire to ascertain what this discovery
implied, his curiosity was not yet destined to be gratified.
The professor kept muttering in incoherent phrases: "Rascal! he shall
pay for it yet. I will be even with him! Cheat! Thrown me out!"
But he did not vouchsafe any reply to Servadac's inquiries,
and withdrew to his study.
From that day Rosette, for some reason at present incomprehensible,
quite altered his behavior to Isaac Hakkabut, a man for whom he had
always hitherto evinced the greatest repugnance and contempt.
All at once he began to show a remarkable interest in the Jew and
his affairs, paying several visits to the dark little storehouse,
making inquiries as to the state of business and expressing some
solicitude about the state of the exchequer.
The wily Jew was taken somewhat by surprise, but came to an immediate
conclusion that the professor was contemplating borrowing some money;
he was consequently very cautious in all his replies.
It was not Hakkabut's habit ever to advance a loan except at an extravagant
rate of interest, or without demanding far more than an adequate security.
Count Timascheff, a Russian nobleman, was evidently rich;
to him perhaps, for a proper consideration, a loan might be made:
Captain Servadac was a Gascon, and Gascons are proverbially poor;
it would never do to lend any money to him; but here was a professor,
a mere man of science, with circumscribed means; did _he_ expect to borrow?
Certainly Isaac would as soon think of flying, as of lending money to him.
Such were the thoughts that made him receive all Rosette's approaches
with a careful reservation.
It was not long, however, before Hakkabut was to be called upon
to apply his money to a purpose for which he had not reckoned.
In his eagerness to effect sales, he had parted with all the
alimentary articles in his cargo without having the precautionary
prudence to reserve enough for his own consumption.
Amongst other things that failed him was his stock of coffee,
and as coffee was a beverage without which he deemed it impossible
to exist, he found himself in considerable perplexity.
He pondered the matter over for a long time, and ultimately persuaded
himself that, after all, the stores were the common property of all,
and that he had as much right to a share as anyone else. Accordingly, he made
his way to Ben Zoof, and, in the most amiable tone he could assume,
begged as a favor that he would let him have a pound of coffee.
The orderly shook his head dubiously.
"A pound of coffee, old Nathan? I can't say."
"Why not? You have some?" said Isaac.
"Oh yes! plenty--a hundred kilogrammes."
"Then let me have one pound. I shall be grateful."
"Hang your gratitude!"
"Only one pound! You would not refuse anybody else."
"That's just the very point, old Samuel; if you were anybody else,
I should know very well what to do. I must refer the matter
to his Excellency."
"Oh, his Excellency will do me justice."
"Perhaps you will find his justice rather too much for you."
And with this consoling remark, the orderly went to seek his master.
Rosette meanwhile had been listening to the conversation, and secretly
rejoicing that an opportunity for which he had been watching had arrived.
"What's the matter, Master Isaac? Have you parted with all your coffee?"
he asked, in a sympathizing voice, when Ben Zoof was gone.
"Ah! yes, indeed," groaned Hakkabut, "and now I require some for my own use.
In my little black hole I cannot live without my coffee."
"Of course you cannot," agreed the professor.
"And don't you think the governor ought to let me have it?"
"Oh, I must have coffee," said the Jew again.
"Certainly," the professor assented. "Coffee is nutritious;
it warms the blood. How much do you want?"
"A pound. A pound will last me for a long time."
"And who will weigh it for you?" asked Rosette, scarcely able
to conceal the eagerness that prompted the question.
"Why, they will weigh it with my steelyard, of course.
There is no other balance here." And as the Jew spoke,
the professor fancied he could detect the faintest of sighs.
"Good, Master Isaac; all the better for you! You will get your seven
pounds instead of one!"
"Yes; well, seven, or thereabouts--thereabouts," stammered the Jew
with considerable hesitation.
Rosette scanned his countenance narrowly, and was about to
probe him with further questions, when Ben Zoof returned.
"And what does his Excellency say?" inquired Hakkabut.
"Why, Nehemiah, he says he shan't give you any."
"Merciful heavens!" began the Jew.
"He says he doesn't mind selling you a little."
"But, by the holy city, why does he make me pay for what anybody else
could have for nothing?"
"As I told you before, you are not anybody else; so, come along.
You can afford to buy what you want. We should like to see the color
of your money."
"Merciful heavens!" the old man whined once more.
"Now, none of that! Yes or no? If you are going to buy, say so at once;
if not, I shall shut up shop."
Hakkabut knew well enough that the orderly was not a man to be trifled with,
and said, in a tremulous voice, "Yes, I will buy."
The professor, who had been looking on with much interest,
betrayed manifest symptoms of satisfaction.
"How much do you want? What will you charge for it?"
asked Isaac, mournfully, putting his hand into his pocket
and chinking his money.
"Oh, we will deal gently with you. We will not make any profit.
You shall have it for the same price that we paid for it.
Ten francs a pound, you know."
The Jew hesitated.
"Come now, what is the use of your hesitating? Your gold will have no value
when you go back to the world."
"What do you mean?" asked Hakkabut, startled.
"You will find out some day," answered Ben Zoof, significantly.
Hakkabut drew out a small piece of gold from his pocket, took it close
under the lamp, rolled it over in his hand, and pressed it to his lips.
"Shall you weigh me the coffee with my steelyard?" he asked, in a quavering
voice that confirmed the professor's suspicions.
"There is nothing else to weigh it with; you know that well enough,
old Shechem," said Ben Zoof. The steelyard was then produced;
a tray was suspended to the hook, and upon this coffee was
thrown until the needle registered the weight of one pound.
Of course, it took seven pounds of coffee to do this.
"There you are! There's your coffee, man!" Ben Zoof said.
"Are you sure?" inquired Hakkabut, peering down close to the dial.
"Are you quite sure that the needle touches the point?"
"Yes; look and see."
"Give it a little push, please."
"Well, because of what?" cried the orderly, impatiently.
"Because I think, perhaps--I am not quite sure--perhaps the steelyard
is not quite correct."
The words were not uttered before the professor, fierce as a tiger,
had rushed at the Jew, had seized him by the throat, and was shaking
him till he was black in the face.
"Help! help!" screamed Hakkabut. "I shall be strangled."
"Rascal! consummate rascal! thief! villain!" the professor reiterated,
and continued to shake the Jew furiously.
Ben Zoof looked on and laughed, making no attempt to interfere;
he had no sympathy with either of the two.
The sound of the scuffling, however, drew the attention
of Servadac, who, followed by his companions, hastened to the scene.
The combatants were soon parted. "What is the meaning of all this?"
demanded the captain.
As soon as the professor had recovered his breath, exhausted by
his exertions, he said, "The old reprobate, the rascal has cheated us!
His steelyard is wrong! He is a thief!"
Captain Servadac looked sternly at Hakkabut.
"How is this, Hakkabut? Is this a fact?"
"No, no--yes--no, your Excellency, only--"
"He is a cheat, a thief!" roared the excited astronomer.
"His weights deceive!"
"Stop, stop!" interposed Servadac; "let us hear.
Tell me, Hakkabut--"
"The steelyard lies! It cheats! it lies!" roared the irrepressible Rosette.
"Tell me, Hakkabut, I say," repeated Servadac.
The Jew only kept on stammering, "Yes--no--I don't know."
But heedless of any interruption, the professor continued, "False weights!
That confounded steelyard! It gave a false result! The mass was wrong!
The observations contradicted the calculations; they were wrong!
She was out of place! Yes, out of place entirely."
"What!" cried Servadac and Procope in a breath, "out of place?"
"Yes, completely," said the professor.
"Gallia out of place?" repeated Servadac, agitated with alarm.
"I did not say Gallia," replied Rosette, stamping his foot impetuously;
"I said Nerina."
"Oh, Nerina," answered Servadac. "But what of Gallia?"
he inquired, still nervously.
"Gallia, of course, is on her way to the earth. I told you so.
But that Jew is a rascal!"
A JOURNEY AND A DISAPPOINTMENT
It was as the professor had said. From the day that
Isaac Hakkabut had entered upon his mercantile career,
his dealings had all been carried on by a system of false weight.
That deceitful steelyard had been the mainspring of his fortune.
But when it had become his lot to be the purchaser instead
of the vendor, his spirit had groaned within him at being
compelled to reap the fruits of his own dishonesty.
No one who had studied his character could be much surprised
at the confession that was extorted from him, that for every
supposed kilogramme that he had ever sold the true weight
was only 750 grammes, or just five and twenty per cent.
less than it ought to have been.
The professor, however, had ascertained all that he wanted to know.
By estimating his comet at a third as much again as its proper weight,
he had found that his calculations were always at variance with the observed
situation of the satellite, which was immediately influenced by the mass
of its primary.
But now, besides enjoying the satisfaction of having punished
old Hakkabut, Rosette was able to recommence his calculations
with reference to the elements of Nerina upon a correct basis,
a task to which he devoted himself with redoubled energy.
It will be easily imagined that Isaac Hakkabut, thus caught in his own trap,
was jeered most unmercifully by those whom he had attempted to make
his dupes. Ben Zoof, in particular, was never wearied of telling him how on
his return to the world he would be prosecuted for using false weights,
and would certainly become acquainted with the inside of a prison.
Thus badgered, he secluded himself more than ever in his dismal hole,
never venturing, except when absolutely obliged, to face the other members
of the community.
On the 7th of October the comet re-entered the zone of the telescopic planets,
one of which had been captured as a satellite, and the origin of the whole
of which is most probably correctly attributed to the disintegration of some
large planet that formerly revolved between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
By the beginning of the following month half of this zone had been traversed,
and only two months remained before the collision with the earth was to
be expected. The temperature was now rarely below 12 degrees below zero,
but that was far too cold to permit the slightest symptoms of a thaw.
The surface of the sea remained as frozen as ever, and the two vessels,
high up on their icy pedestals, remained unaltered in their critical position.
It was about this time that the question began to be mooted whether it
would not be right to reopen some communication with the Englishmen
at Gibraltar. Not that any doubt was entertained as to their having
been able successfully to cope with the rigors of the winter;
but Captain Servadac, in a way that did honor to his generosity,
represented that, however uncourteous might have been their
former behavior, it was at least due to them that they should
be informed of the true condition of things, which they had had
no opportunity of learning; and, moreover, that they should
be invited to co-operate with the population of Nina's Hive,
in the event of any measures being suggested by which the shock
of the approaching collision could be mitigated.
The count and the lieutenant both heartily concurred in Servadac's
sentiments of humanity and prudence, and all agreed that if the intercourse
were to be opened at all, no time could be so suitable as the present,
while the surface of the sea presented a smooth and solid footing.
After a thaw should set in, neither the yacht nor the tartan could be reckoned
on for service, and it would be inexpedient to make use of the steam launch,
for which only a few tons of coal had been reserved, just sufficient
to convey them to Gourbi Island when the occasion should arise; whilst as
to the yawl, which, transformed into a sledge, had performed so successful
a trip to Formentera, the absence of wind would make that quite unavailable.
It was true that with the return of summer temperature, there would be certain
to be a derangement in the atmosphere of Gallia, which would result in wind,
but for the present the air was altogether too still for the yawl to have
any prospects of making its way to Gibraltar.
The only question remaining was as to the possibility of going on foot.
The distance was somewhere about 240 miles. Captain Servadac declared
himself quite equal to the undertaking. To skate sixty or seventy miles
a day would be nothing, he said, to a practical skater like himself.
The whole journey there and back might be performed in eight days.
Provided with a compass, a sufficient supply of cold meat, and a spirit lamp,
by which he might boil his coffee, he was perfectly sure he should,
without the least difficulty, accomplish an enterprise that chimed
in so exactly with his adventurous spirit.
Equally urgent were both the count and the lieutenant to be allowed
to accompany him; nay, they even offered to go instead; but Servadac,
expressing himself as most grateful for their consideration,
declined their offer, and avowed his resolution of taking no other
companion than his own orderly.
Highly delighted at his master's decision, Ben Zoof expressed
his satisfaction at the prospect of "stretching his legs a bit,"
declaring that nothing could induce him to permit the captain to go alone.
There was no delay. The departure was fixed for the following morning,
the 2nd of November.
Although it is not to be questioned that a genuine desire of doing an act
of kindness to his fellow-creatures was a leading motive of Servadac's
proposed visit to Gibraltar, it must be owned that another idea,
confided to nobody, least of all to Count Timascheff, had been conceived
in the brain of the worthy Gascon. Ben Zoof had an inkling that his
master was "up to some other little game," when, just before starting,
he asked him privately whether there was a French tricolor among the stores.
"I believe so," said the orderly.
"Then don't say a word to anyone, but fasten it up tight in your knapsack."
Ben Zoof found the flag, and folded it up as he was directed.
Before proceeding to explain this somewhat enig-matical conduct
of Servadac, it is necessary to refer to a certain physiological fact,
coincident but unconnected with celestial phenomena, originating entirely
in the frailty of human nature. The nearer that Gallia approached
the earth, the more a sort of reserve began to spring up between
the captain and Count Timascheff. Though they could not be said
to be conscious of it, the remembrance of their former rivalry,
so completely buried in oblivion for the last year and ten months,
was insensibly recovering its hold upon their minds, and the question
was all but coming to the surface as to what would happen if, on their
return to earth, the handsome Madame de L---- should still be free.
From companions in peril, would they not again be avowed rivals?
Conceal it as they would, a coolness was undeniably stealing over
an intimacy which, though it could never be called affectionate,
had been uniformly friendly and courteous.
Under these circumstances, it was not surprising that Hector Servadac
should not have confided to the count a project which, wild as it was,
could scarcely have failed to widen the unacknowledged breach that was
opening in their friendship.
The project was the annexation of Ceuta to the French dominion.
The Englishmen, rightly enough, had continued to occupy
the fragment of Gibraltar, and their claim was indisputable.
But the island of Ceuta, which before the shock had commanded
the opposite side of the strait, and had been occupied
by Spaniards, had since been abandoned, and was therefore
free to the first occupant who should lay claim to it.
To plant the tricolor upon it, in the name of France, was now
the cherished wish of Servadac's heart.
"Who knows," he said to himself, "whether Ceuta, on its return to earth,
may not occupy a grand and commanding situation? What a proud thing it
would be to have secured its possession to France!"
Next morning, as soon as they had taken their brief farewell
of their friends, and were fairly out of sight of the shore,
Servadac imparted his design to Ben Zoof, who entered into the project
with the greatest zest, and expressed himself delighted, not only
at the prospect of adding to the dominions of his beloved country,
but of stealing a march upon England.
Both travelers were warmly clad, the orderly's knapsack
containing all the necessary provisions. The journey was
accomplished without special incident; halts were made at
regular intervals, for the purpose of taking food and rest.
The temperature by night as well as by day was quite endurable,
and on the fourth afternoon after starting, thanks to the
straight course which their compass enabled them to maintain,
the adventurers found themselves within a few miles of Ceuta.
As soon as Ben Zoof caught sight of the rock on the western horizon,
he was all excitement. Just as if he were in a regiment going into action,
he talked wildly about "columns" and "squares" and "charges." The captain,
although less demonstrative, was hardly less eager to reach the rock.
They both pushed forward with all possible speed till they were within
a mile and a half of the shore, when Ben Zoof, who had a very keen vision,
stopped suddenly, and said that he was sure he could see something moving
on the top of the island.
"Never mind, let us hasten on," said Servadac. A few minutes
carried them over another mile, when Ben Zoof stopped again.
"What is it, Ben Zoof?" asked the captain.
"It looks to me like a man on a rock, waving his arms in the air,"
said the orderly.
"Plague on it!" muttered Servadac; "I hope we are not too late."
Again they went on; but soon Ben Zoof stopped for the third time.
"It is a semaphore, sir; I see it quite distinctly."
And he was not mistaken; it had been a telegraph in motion
that had caught his eye.
"Plague on it!" repeated the captain.
"Too late, sir, do you think?" said Ben Zoof.
"Yes, Ben Zoof; if that's a telegraph--and there is no doubt of it--
somebody has been before us and erected it; and, moreover, if it is moving,
there must be somebody working it now."
He was keenly disappointed. Looking towards the north, he could
distinguish Gibraltar faintly visible in the extreme distance,
and upon the summit of the rock both Ben Zoof and himself fancied
they could make out another semaphore, giving signals, no doubt,
in response to the one here.
"Yes, it is only too clear; they have already occupied it,
and established their communications," said Servadac.
"And what are we to do, then?" asked Ben Zoof.
"We must pocket our chagrin, and put as good a face on the matter as we can,"
replied the captain.
"But perhaps there are only four or five Englishmen to protect the place,"
said Ben Zoof, as if meditating an assault.
"No, no, Ben Zoof," answered Servadac; "we must do nothing rash.
We have had our warning, and, unless our representations can induce
them to yield their position, we must resign our hope."
Thus discomfited, they had reached the foot of the rock,
when all at once, like a "Jack-in-the-box," a sentinel started
up before them with the challenge:
"Who goes there?"
"Friends. Vive la France!" cried the captain.
"Hurrah for England!" replied the soldier.
By this time four other men had made their appearance from the upper part
of the rock.
"What do you want?" asked one of them, whom Servadac remembered
to have seen before at Gibraltar.
"Can I speak to your commanding officer?" Servadac inquired.
"Which?" said the man. "The officer in command of Ceuta?"
"Yes, if there is one."
"I will acquaint him with your arrival," answered the Englishman,
In a few minutes the commanding officer, attired in full uniform,
was seen descending to the shore. It was Major Oliphant himself.
Servadac could no longer entertain a doubt that the Englishmen had forestalled
him in the occupation of Ceuta. Provisions and fuel had evidently been
conveyed thither in the boat from Gibraltar before the sea had frozen,
and a solid casemate, hollowed in the rock, had afforded Major Oliphant
and his contingent ample protection from the rigor of the winter.
The ascending smoke that rose above the rock was sufficient evidence
that good fires were still kept up; the soldiers appeared to have thriven
well on what, no doubt, had been a generous diet, and the major himself,
although he would scarcely have been willing to allow it, was slightly
stouter than before.
Being only about twelve miles distant from Gibraltar, the little
garrison at Ceuta had felt itself by no means isolated in its position;
but by frequent excursions across the frozen strait, and by the constant
use of the telegraph, had kept up their communication with their
fellow-countrymen on the other island. Colonel Murphy and the major
had not even been forced to forego the pleasures of the chessboard.
The game that had been interrupted by Captain Servadac's former visit
was not yet concluded; but, like the two American clubs that played
their celebrated game in 1846 between Washington and Baltimore,
the two gallant officers made use of the semaphore to communicate
their well-digested moves.
The major stood waiting for his visitor to speak.
"Major Oliphant, I believe?" said Servadac, with a courteous bow.
"Yes, sir, Major Oliphant, officer in command of the garrison
at Ceuta," was the Englishman's reply. "And to whom," he added,
"may I have the honor of speaking?"
"To Captain Servadac, the governor general of Gallia."
"Indeed!" said the major, with a supercilious look.
"Allow me to express my surprise," resumed the captain, "at seeing you
installed as commanding officer upon what I have always understood
to be Spanish soil. May I demand your claim to your position?"
"My claim is that of first occupant."
"But do you not think that the party of Spaniards now resident with me
may at some future time assert a prior right to the proprietorship?"
"I think not, Captain Servadac."
"But why not?" persisted the captain.
"Because these very Spaniards have, by formal contract, made over Ceuta,
in its integrity, to the British government."
Servadac uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"And as the price of that important cession," continued Major Oliphant,
"they have received a fair equivalent in British gold."
"Ah!" cried Ben Zoof, "that accounts for that fellow Negrete and his people
having such a lot of money."
Servadac was silent. It had become clear to his mind what had
been the object of that secret visit to Ceuta which he had heard
of as being made by the two English officers. The arguments
that he had intended to use had completely fallen through;
all that he had now to do was carefully to prevent any suspicion
of his disappointed project.
"May I be allowed to ask, Captain Servadac, to what I am indebted
for the honor of this visit?" asked Major Oliphant presently.
"I have come, Major Oliphant, in the hope of doing you and your companions
a service," replied Servadac, rousing himself from his reverie.
"Ah, indeed!" replied the major, as though he felt himself quite
independent of all services from exterior sources.
"I thought, major, that it was not unlikely you were in ignorance
of the fact that both Ceuta and Gibraltar have been traversing
the solar regions on the surface of a comet."
The major smiled incredulously; but Servadac, nothing daunted,
went on to detail the results of the collision between the comet
and the earth, adding that, as there was the almost immediate
prospect of another concussion, it had occurred to him that it
might be advisable for the whole population of Gallia to unite
in taking precautionary measures for the common welfare.
"In fact, Major Oliphant," he said in conclusion, "I am here
to inquire whether you and your friends would be disposed to join
us in our present quarters."
"I am obliged to you, Captain Servadac," answered the major stiffly;
"but we have not the slightest intention of abandoning our post.
We have received no government orders to that effect; indeed, we have
received no orders at all. Our own dispatch to the First Lord
of the Admiralty still awaits the mail."
"But allow me to repeat," insisted Servadac, "that we are no longer
on the earth, although we expect to come in contact with it again
in about eight weeks."
"I have no doubt," the major answered, "that England will make every effort
to reclaim us."
Servadac felt perplexed. It was quite evident that Major Oliphant had not
been convinced of the truth of one syllable of what he had been saying.
"Then I am to understand that you are determined to retain
your two garrisons here and at Gibraltar?" asked Servadac,
with one last effort at persuasion.
"Certainly; these two posts command the entrance of the Mediterranean."
"But supposing there is no longer any Mediterranean?"
retorted the captain, growing impatient.
"Oh, England will always take care of that," was Major Oliphant's cool reply.
"But excuse me," he added presently; "I see that Colonel Murphy has just
telegraphed his next move. Allow me to wish you good-afternoon."
And without further parley, followed by his soldiers, he retired
into the casemate, leaving Captain Servadac gnawing his mustache
with mingled rage and mortification.
"A fine piece of business we have made of this!" said Ben Zoof,
when he found himself alone with his master.
"We will make our way back at once," replied Captain Servadac.
"Yes, the sooner the better, with our tails between our legs,"
rejoined the orderly, who this time felt no inclination
to start off to the march of the Algerian zephyrs.
And so the French tricolor returned as it had set out--
in Ben Zoof's knapsack.
On the eighth evening after starting, the travelers again set foot
on the volcanic promontory just in time to witness a great commotion.
Palmyrin Rosette was in a furious rage. He had completed all his calculations
about Nerina, but that perfidious satellite had totally disappeared.
The astronomer was frantic at the loss of his moon. Captured probably by some
larger body, it was revolving in its proper zone of the minor planets.
A BOLD PROPOSITION
On his return Servadac communicated to the count the result of his expedition,
and, though perfectly silent on the subject of his personal project,
did not conceal the fact that the Spaniards, without the smallest right,
had sold Ceuta to the English.
Having refused to quit their post, the Englishmen had virtually excluded
themselves from any further consideration; they had had their warning,
and must now take the consequences of their own incredulity.
Although it had proved that not a single creature either at
Gourbi Island, Gibraltar, Ceuta, Madalena, or Formentera had
received any injury whatever at the time of the first concussion,
there was nothing in the least to make it certain
that a like immunity from harm would attend the second.
The previous escape was doubtless owing to some slight,
though unaccountable, modification in the rate of motion;
but whether the inhabitants of the earth had fared so fortunately,
was a question that had still to be determined.
The day following Servadac's return, he and the count and
Lieutenant Procope met by agreement in the cave, formally to discuss
what would be the most advisable method of proceeding under
their present prospects. Ben Zoof was, as a matter of course,
allowed to be present, and Professor Rosette had been asked to attend;
but he declined on the plea of taking no interest in the matter.
Indeed, the disappearance of his moon had utterly disconcerted him,
and the probability that he should soon lose his comet also,
plunged him into an excess of grief which he preferred to
bear in solitude.
Although the barrier of cool reserve was secretly increasing
between the captain and the count, they scrupulously concealed
any outward token of their inner feelings, and without any personal
bias applied their best energies to the discussion of the question
which was of such mutual, nay, of such universal interest.
Servadac was the first to speak. "In fifty-one days, if Professor Rosette
has made no error in his calculations, there is to be a recurrence
of collision between this comet and the earth. The inquiry that we
have now to make is whether we are prepared for the coming shock.
I ask myself, and I ask you, whether it is in our power, by any means,
to avert the evil consequences that are only too likely to follow?"
Count Timascheff, in a voice that seemed to thrill with solemnity, said:
"In such events we are at the disposal of an over-ruling Providence;
human precautions cannot sway the Divine will."
"But with the most profound reverence for the will of Providence,"
replied the captain, "I beg to submit that it is our duty to devise
whatever means we can to escape the threatening mischief.
Heaven helps them that help themselves."
"And what means have you to suggest, may I ask?" said the count,
with a faint accent of satire.
Servadac was forced to acknowledge that nothing tangible had hitherto
presented itself to his mind.
"I don't want to intrude," observed Ben Zoof, "but I don't understand
why such learned gentlemen as you cannot make the comet go where you
want it to go."
"You are mistaken, Ben Zoof, about our learning," said the captain;
"even Professor Rosette, with all his learning, has not a shadow of power
to prevent the comet and the earth from knocking against each other."
"Then I cannot see what is the use of all this learning,"
the orderly replied.
"One great use of learning," said Count Timascheff
with a smile, "is to make us know our own ignorance."
While this conversation had been going on, Lieutenant Procope
had been sitting in thoughtful silence. Looking up, he now said,
"Incident to this expected shock, there may be a variety of dangers.
If, gentlemen, you will allow me, I will enumerate them;
and we shall, perhaps, by taking them _seriatim_, be in a better
position to judge whether we can successfully grapple with them,
or in any way mitigate their consequences."
There was a general attitude of attention. It was surprising
how calmly they proceeded to discuss the circumstances that looked
so threatening and ominous.
"First of all," resumed the lieutenant, "we will specify the different ways
in which the shock may happen."
"And the prime fact to be remembered," interposed Servadac,
"is that the combined velocity of the two bodies will be about
21,000 miles an hour."
"Express speed, and no mistake!" muttered Ben Zoof.
"Just so," assented Procope. "Now, the two bodies may impinge either
directly or obliquely. If the impact is sufficiently oblique,
Gallia may do precisely what she did before: she may graze the earth;
she may, or she may not, carry off a portion of the earth's
atmosphere and substance, and so she may float away again into space;
but her orbit would undoubtedly be deranged, and if we survive
the shock, we shall have small chance of ever returning to the world
of our fellow-creatures."
"Professor Rosette, I suppose," Ben Zoof remarked, "would pretty soon
find out all about that."
"But we will leave this hypothesis," said the lieutenant; "our own
experience has sufficiently shown us its advantages and its disadvantages.
We will proceed to consider the infinitely more serious alternative of
direct impact; of a shock that would hurl the comet straight on to the earth,
to which it would become attached."
"A great wart upon her face!" said Ben Zoof, laughing.
The captain held up his finger to his orderly, making him understand
that he should hold his tongue.
"It is, I presume, to be taken for granted," continued Lieutenant Procope,
"that the mass of the earth is comparatively so large that, in the event
of a direct collision, her own motion would not be sensibly retarded,
and that she would carry the comet along with her, as part of herself."
"Very little question of that, I should think," said Servadac.
"Well, then," the lieutenant went on, "what part of this comet
of ours will be the part to come into collision with the earth?
It may be the equator, where we are; it may be at the exactly
opposite point, at our antipodes; or it may be at either pole.
In any case, it seems hard to foresee whence there is to come
the faintest chance of deliverance."
"Is the case so desperate?" asked Servadac.
"I will tell you why it seems so. If the side of the comet on which we
are resident impinges on the earth, it stands to reason that we must
be crushed to atoms by the violence of the concussion."
"Regular mincemeat!" said Ben Zoof, whom no admonitions could
quite reduce to silence.
"And if," said the lieutenant, after a moment's pause, and the slightest
possible frown at the interruption--"and if the collision should occur
at our antipodes, the sudden check to the velocity of the comet
would be quite equivalent to a shock _in situ_; and, another thing,
we should run the risk of being suffocated, for all our comet's
atmosphere would be assimilated with the terrestrial atmosphere, and we,
supposing we were not dashed to atoms, should be left as it were upon
the summit of an enormous mountain (for such to all intents and purposes
Gallia would be), 450 miles above the level of the surface of the globe,
without a particle of air to breathe."
"But would not our chances of escape be considerably better,"
asked Count Timascheff, "in the event of either of the comet's
poles being the point of contact?"
"Taking the combined velocity into account," answered the lieutenant,
"I confess that I fear the violence of the shock will be too great
to permit our destruction to be averted."
A general silence ensued, which was broken by the lieutenant himself.
"Even if none of these contingencies occur in the way we have contemplated,
I am driven to the suspicion that we shall be burnt alive."
"Burnt alive!" they all exclaimed in a chorus of horror.
"Yes. If the deductions of modern science be true, the speed
of the comet, when suddenly checked, will be transmuted into heat,
and that heat will be so intense that the temperature of the comet
will be raised to some millions of degrees."
No one having anything definite to allege in reply to
Lieutenant Procope's forebodings, they all relapsed into silence.
Presently Ben Zoof asked whether it was not possible for the comet
to fall into the middle of the Atlantic.
Procope shook his head. "Even so, we should only be adding the fate
of drowning to the list of our other perils."
"Then, as I understand," said Captain Servadac,
"in whatever way or in whatever place the concussion occurs,
we must be either crushed, suffocated, roasted, or drowned.
Is that your conclusion, lieutenant?"
"I confess I see no other alternative," answered Procope, calmly.
"But isn't there another thing to be done?" said Ben Zoof.
"What do you mean?" his master asked.
"Why, to get off the comet before the shock comes."
"How could you get off Gallia?"
"That I can't say," replied the orderly.
"I am not sure that that could not be accomplished," said the lieutenant.
All eyes in a moment were riveted upon him, as, with his head
resting on his hands, he was manifestly cogitating a new idea.
"Yes, I think it could be accomplished," he repeated.
"The project may appear extravagant, but I do not know why it
should be impossible. Ben Zoof has hit the right nail on the head;
we must try and leave Gallia before the shock."
"Leave Gallia! How?" said Count Timascheff.
The lieutenant did not at once reply. He continued pondering for a time,
and at last said, slowly and distinctly, "By making a balloon!"
Servadac's heart sank.
"A balloon!" he exclaimed. "Out of the question! Balloons are
exploded things. You hardly find them in novels. Balloon, indeed!"
"Listen to me," replied Procope. "Perhaps I can convince you that my
idea is not so chimerical as you imagine." And, knitting his brow,
he proceeded to establish the feasibility of his plan.
"If we can ascertain the precise moment when the shock is to happen,
and can succeed in launching ourselves a sufficient time
beforehand into Gallia's atmosphere, I believe it will transpire
that this atmosphere will amalgamate with that of the earth,
and that a balloon whirled along by the combined velocity would
glide into the mingled atmosphere and remain suspended in mid-air
until the shock of the collision is overpast."
Count Timascheff reflected for a minute, and said, "I think,
lieutenant, I understand your project. The scheme seems tenable;
and I shall be ready to co-operate with you, to the best of my power,
in putting it into execution."
"Only, remember," continued Procope, "there are many chances to one against
our success. One instant's obstruction and stoppage in our passage, and our
balloon is burnt to ashes. Still, reluctant as I am to acknowledge it,
I confess that I feel our sole hope of safety rests in our getting free
from this comet."
"If the chances were ten thousand to one against us,"
said Servadac, "I think the attempt ought to be made."
"But have we hydrogen enough to inflate a balloon?" asked the count.
"Hot air will be all that we shall require," the lieutenant answered;
"we are only contemplating about an hour's journey."
"Ah, a fire-balloon! A montgolfier!" cried Servadac. "But what are you
going to do for a casing?"
"I have thought of that. We must cut it out of the sails of the _Dobryna_;
they are both light and strong," rejoined the lieutenant.
Count Timascheff complimented the lieutenant upon his ingenuity,
and Ben Zoof could not resist bringing the meeting to a conclusion
by a ringing cheer.
Truly daring was the plan of which Lieutenant Procope had thus
become the originator; but the very existence of them all
was at stake, and the design must be executed resolutely.
For the success of the enterprise it was absolutely necessary to know,
almost to a minute, the precise time at which the collision would occur,
and Captain Servadac undertook the task, by gentle means or by stern,
of extracting the secret from the professor.
To Lieutenant Procope himself was entrusted the superintendence of
the construction of the montgolfier, and the work was begun at once.
It was to be large enough to carry the whole of the twenty-three residents
in the volcano, and, in order to provide the means of floating aloft
long enough to give time for selecting a proper place for descent,
the lieutenant was anxious to make it carry enough hay or straw
to maintain combustion for a while, and keep up the necessary supply
of heated air.
The sails of the _Dobryna_, which had all been carefully
stowed away in the Hive, were of a texture unusually close,
and quite capable of being made airtight by means of a varnish,
the ingredients of which were rummaged out of the promiscuous stores
of the tartan. The lieutenant himself traced out the pattern
and cut out the strips, and all hands were employed in seaming
them together. It was hardly the work for little fingers,
but Nina persisted in accomplishing her own share of it.
The Russians were quite at home at occupation of this sort,
and having initiated the Spaniards into its mysteries,
the task of joining together the casing was soon complete.
Isaac Hakkabut and the professor were the only two members of
the community who took no part in this somewhat tedious proceeding.
A month passed away, but Servadac found no opportunity of
getting at the information he had pledged himself to gain.
On the sole occasion when he had ventured to broach the subject
with the astronomer, he had received for answer that as there
was no hurry to get back to the earth, there need be no concern
about any dangers of transit.
Indeed, as time passed on, the professor seemed to become
more and more inaccessible. A pleasant temperature enabled
him to live entirely in his observatory, from which intruders
were rigidly shut out. But Servadac bided his time.
He grew more and more impressed with the importance of finding
out the exact moment at which the impact would take place,
but was content to wait for a promising opportunity to put any
fresh questions on the subject to the too reticent astronomer.
Meanwhile, the earth's disc was daily increasing in magnitude;
the comet traveled 50,000,000 leagues during the month,
at the close of which it was not more than 78,000,000 leagues
from the sun.
A thaw had now fairly set in. The breaking up of the frozen ocean
was a magnificent spectacle, and "the great voice of the sea,"
as the whalers graphically describe it, was heard in all its solemnity.
Little streams of water began to trickle down the declivities of
the mountain and along the shelving shore, only to be transformed,
as the melting of the snow continued, into torrents or cascades.
Light vapors gathered on the horizon, and clouds were formed and
carried rapidly along by breezes to which the Gallian atmosphere
had long been unaccustomed. All these were doubtless but the prelude
to atmospheric disturbances of a more startling character;
but as indications of returning spring, they were greeted with a
welcome which no apprehensions for the future could prevent being
glad and hearty.
A double disaster was the inevitable consequence of the thaw.
Both the schooner and the tartan were entirely destroyed.
The basement of the icy pedestal on which the ships had been upheaved
was gradually undermined, like the icebergs of the Arctic Ocean,
by warm currents of water, and on the night of the 12th the huge
block collapsed _en masse_, so that on the following morning nothing
remained of the _Dobryna_ and the _Hansa_ except the fragments
scattered on the shore.
Although certainly expected, the catastrophe could not fail
to cause a sense of general depression. Well-nigh one of their
last ties to Mother Earth had been broken; the ships were gone,
and they had only a balloon to replace them!
To describe Isaac Hakkabut's rage at the destruction of the
tartan would be impossible. His oaths were simply dreadful;
his imprecations on the accursed race were full of wrath.
He swore that Servadac and his people were responsible for his loss;
he vowed that they should be sued and made to pay him damages;
he asserted that he had been brought from Gourbi Island only
to be plundered; in fact, he became so intolerably abusive,
that Servadac threatened to put him into irons unless he conducted
himself properly; whereupon the Jew, finding that the captain was
in earnest, and would not hesitate to carry the threat into effect,
was fain to hold his tongue, and slunk back into his dim hole.
By the 14th the balloon was finished, and, carefully sewn and well
varnished as it had been, it was really a very substantial structure.
It was covered with a network that had been made from the light rigging
of the yacht, and the car, composed of wicker-work that had formed
partitions in the hold of the _Hansa_, was quite commodious enough
to hold the twenty-three passengers it was intended to convey.
No thought had been bestowed upon comfort or convenience, as the ascent
was to last for so short a time, merely long enough for making
the transit from atmosphere to atmosphere.
The necessity was becoming more and more urgent to get at the true
hour of the approaching contact, but the professor seemed to grow
more obstinate than ever in his resolution to keep his secret.
On the 15th the comet crossed the orbit of Mars, at the safe
distance of 56,000,000 leagues; but during that night the community
thought that their last hour had taken them unawares.
The volcano rocked and trernbled with the convulsions
of internal disturbance, and Servadac and his companions,
convinced that the mountain was doomed to some sudden disruption,
rushed into the open air.
The first object that caught their attention as they
emerged upon the open rocks was the unfortunate professor,
who was scrambling down the mountain-side, piteously displaying
a fragment of his shattered telescope.
It was no time for condolence.
A new marvel arrested every eye. A fresh satellite, in the gloom of night,
was shining conspicuously before them.
That satellite was a part of Gallia itself!
By the expansive action of the inner heat, Gallia, like Gambart's comet,
had been severed in twain; an enormous fragment had been detached
and launched into space!
The fragment included Ceuta and Gibraltar, with the two English garrisons!
THE VENTURE MADE
What would be the consequences of this sudden and complete disruption,
Servadac and his people hardly dared to think.
The first change that came under their observation was the rapidity of
the sun's appearances and disappearances, forcing them to the conviction
that although the comet still rotated on its axis from east to west,
yet the period of its rotation had been diminished by about one-half.
Only six hours instead of twelve elapsed between sunrise and sunrise;
three hours after rising in the west the sun was sinking again in the east.
"We are coming to something!" exclaimed Servadac. "We have got
a year of something like 2,880 days."
"I shouldn't think it would be an easy matter to find saints enough
for such a calendar as that!" said Ben Zoof.
Servadac laughed, and remarked that they should have the professor
talking about the 238th of June, and the 325th of December.
It soon became evident that the detached portion was not revolving
round the comet, but was gradually retreating into space.
Whether it had carried with it any portion of atmosphere,
whether it possessed any other condition for supporting life,
and whether it was likely ever again to approach to the earth,
were all questions that there were no means of determining.
For themselves the all-important problem was--what effect would
the rending asunder of the comet have upon its rate of progress?
and as they were already conscious of a further increase
of muscular power, and a fresh diminution of specific gravity,
Servadac and his associates could not but wonder whether
the alteration in the mass of the comet would not result in its
missing the expected coincidence with the earth altogether.
Although he professed himself incompetent to pronounce a decided opinion,
Lieutenant Procope manifestly inclined to the belief that no alteration
would ensue in the rate of Gallia's velocity; but Rosette, no doubt,
could answer the question directly, and the time had now arrived in which
he must be compelled to divulge the precise moment of collision.
But the professor was in the worst of tempers. Generally taciturn and morose,
he was more than usually uncivil whenever any one ventured to speak to him.
The loss of his telescope had doubtless a great deal to do with his ill-humor;
but the captain drew the most favorable conclusions from Rosette's
continued irritation. Had the comet been in any way projected from
its course, so as to be likely to fail in coming into contact with the earth,
the professor would have been quite unable to conceal his satisfaction.
But they required to know more than the general truth, and felt that they
had no time to lose in getting at the exact details.
The opportunity that was wanted soon came.
On the 18th, Rosette was overheard in furious altercation
with Ben Zoof. The orderly had been taunting
the astronomer with the mutilation of his little comet.
A fine thing, he said, to split in two like a child's toy.
It had cracked like a dry nut; and mightn't one as well live
upon an exploding bomb?--with much more to the same effect.
The professor, by way of retaliation, had commenced sneering
at the "prodigious" mountain of Montmartre, and the dispute
was beginning to look serious when Servadac entered.
Thinking he could turn the wrangling to some good account,
so as to arrive at the information he was so anxiously seeking,
the captain pretended to espouse the views of his orderly;
he consequently brought upon himself the full force of
the professor's wrath.
Rosette's language became more and more violent, till Servadac,
feigning to be provoked beyond endurance, cried:
"You forget, sir, that you are addressing the Governor-General of Gallia."
"Governor-General! humbug!" roared Rosette. "Gallia is my comet!"
"I deny it," said Servadac. "Gallia has lost its chance of
getting back to the earth. Gallia has nothing to do with you.
Gallia is mine; and you must submit to the government which I
please to ordain."
"And who told you that Gallia is not going back to the earth?"
asked the professor, with a look of withering scorn.
"Why, isn't her mass diminished? Isn't she split in half?
Isn't her velocity all altered?" demanded the captain.
"And pray who told you this?" again said the professor,
with a sneer.
"Everybody. Everybody knows it, of course," replied Servadac.
"Everybody is very clever. And you always were a very clever scholar too.
We remember that of old, don't we?"
"You nearly mastered the first elements of science, didn't you?"
"A credit to your class!"
"Hold your tongue, sir!" bellowed the captain again, as if his
anger was uncontrollable.
"Not I," said the professor.
" Hold your tongue!" repeated Servadac.
"Just because the mass is altered you think the velocity is altered?"
"Hold your tongue!" cried the captain, louder than ever.
"What has mass to do with the orbit? Of how many comets do you know the mass,
and yet you know their movements? Ignorance!" shouted Rosette.
"Insolence!" retorted Servadac.
Ben Zoof, really thinking that his master was angry, made a threatening
movement towards the professor.
"Touch me if you dare!" screamed Rosette, drawing himself up
to the fullest height his diminutive figure would allow.
"You shall answer for your conduct before a court of justice!"
"Where? On Gallia?" asked the captain.
"No; on the earth."
"The earth! Pshaw! You know we shall never get there;
our velocity is changed."
"On the earth," repeated the professor, with decision.
"Trash!" cried Ben Zoof. "The earth will be too far off!"
"Not too far off for us to come across her orbit at 42 minutes
and 35.6 seconds past two o'clock on the morning of this coming
1st of January."
"Thanks, my dear professor--many thanks. You have given me all
the information I required;" and, with a low bow and a gracious smile,
the captain withdrew. The orderly made an equally polite bow,
and followed his master. The professor, completely nonplussed,
was left alone.
Thirteen days, then--twenty-six of the original Gallian days, fifty-two of
the present--was all the time for preparation that now remained.
Every preliminary arrangement was hurried on with the greatest earnestness.
There was a general eagerness to be quit of Gallia. Indifferent to
the dangers that must necessarily attend a balloon ascent under such
unparalleled circumstances, and heedless of Lieutenant Procope's
warning that the slightest check in their progress would result
in instantaneous combustion, they all seemed to conclude that it
must be the simplest thing possible to glide from one atmosphere
to another, so that they were quite sanguine as to the successful
issue of their enterprise. Captain Servadac made a point of showing
himself quite enthusiastic in his anticipations, and to Ben Zoof
the going up in a balloon was the supreme height of his ambition.
The count and the lieutenant, of colder and less demonstrative temperament,
alike seemed to realize the possible perils of the undertaking,
but even they were determined to put a bold face upon every difficulty.
The sea had now become navigable, and three voyages were made to Gourbi Island
in the steam launch, consuming the last of their little reserve of coal.
The first voyage had been made by Servadac with several of the sailors.
They found the gourbi and the adjacent building quite uninjured
by the severity of the winter; numbers of little rivulets
intersected the pasture-land; new plants were springing up under
the influence of the equatorial sun, and the luxuriant foliage
was tenanted by the birds which had flown back from the volcano.
Summer had almost abruptly succeeded to winter, and the days,
though only three hours long, were intensely hot.
Another of the voyages to the island had been to collect the dry
grass and straw which was necessary for inflating the balloon.
Had the balloon been less cumbersome it would have been conveyed
to the island, whence the start would have been effected;
but as it was, it was more convenient to bring the combustible
material to the balloon.
The last of the coal having been consumed, the fragments
of the shipwrecked vessels had to be used day by day for fuel.
Hakkabut began making a great hubbub when he found that they were
burning some of the spars of the _Hansa_; but he was effectually
silenced by Ben Zoof, who told him that if he made any more fuss,
he should be compelled to pay 50,000 francs for a balloon-ticket,
or else he should be left behind.
By Christmas Day everything was in readiness for immediate departure.
The festival was observed with a solemnity still more marked than
the anniversary of the preceding year. Every one looked forward
to spending New Year's Day in another sphere altogether, and Ben Zoof
had already promised Pablo and Nina all sorts of New Year's gifts.
It may seem strange, but the nearer the critical moment approached,
the less Hector Servadac and Count Timascheff had to say to each
other on the subject. Their mutual reserve became more apparent;
the experiences of the last two years were fading from their minds
like a dream; and the fair image that had been the cause of their
original rivalry was ever rising, as a vision, between them.
The captain's thoughts began to turn to his unfinished rondo;
in his leisure moments, rhymes suitable and unsuitable,
possible and impossible, were perpetually jingling in his imagination.
He labored under the conviction that he had a work of genius to complete.
A poet he had left the earth, and a poet he must return.
Count Timascheff's desire to return to the world was quite
equaled by Lieutenant Procope's. The Russian sailors'
only thought was to follow their master, wherever he went.
The Spaniards, though they would have been unconcerned to know
that they were to remain upon Gallia, were nevertheless looking
forward with some degree of pleasure to revisiting the plains
of Andalusia; and Nina and Pablo were only too delighted
at the prospect of accompanying their kind protectors on any
fresh excursion whatever.
The only malcontent was Palmyrin Rosette. Day and night he persevered in his
astronomical pursuits, declared his intention of never abandoning his comet,
and swore positively that nothing should induce him to set foot in the car
of the balloon.
The misfortune that had befallen his telescope was a never-ending theme
of complaint; and just now, when Gallia was entering the narrow zone
of shooting-stars, and new discoveries might have been within his reach,
his loss made him more inconsolable than ever. In sheer desperation,
he endeavored to increase the intensity of his vision by applying to his
eyes some belladonna which he found in the _Dobryna's_ medicine chest;
with heroic fortitude he endured the tortures of the experiment,
and gazed up into the sky until he was nearly blind. But all in vain;
not a single fresh discovery rewarded his sufferings.
No one was quite exempt from the feverish excitement which prevailed
during the last days of December. Lieutenant Procope superintended his
final arrangements. The two low masts of the schooner had been erected
firmly on the shore, and formed supports for the montgolfier, which had been
duly covered with the netting, and was ready at any moment to be inflated.
The car was close at hand. Some inflated skins had been attached
to its sides, so that the balloon might float for a time, in the event
of its descending in the sea at a short distance from the shore.
If unfortunately, it should come down in mid-ocean, nothing but the happy
chance of some passing vessel could save them all from the certain fate
of being drowned.
The 31st came. Twenty-four hours hence and the balloon,
with its large living freight, would be high in the air.
The atmosphere was less buoyant than that of the earth,
but no difficulty in ascending was to be apprehended.
Gallia was now within 96,000,000 miles of the sun, consequently not
much more than 4,000,000 miles from the earth; and this interval
was being diminished at the rate of nearly 208,000 miles an hour,
the speed of the earth being about 70,000 miles, that of the comet
being little less than 138,000 miles an hour.
It was determined to make the start at two o'clock, three-quarters
of an hour, or, to speak correctly 42 minutes 35.6 seconds,
before the time predicted by the professor as the instant of collision.
The modified rotation of the comet caused it to be daylight
at the time.
An hour previously the balloon was inflated with perfect success,
and the car was securely attached to the network.
It only awaited the stowage of the passengers.
Isaac Hakkabut was the first to take his place in the car. But scarcely
had he done so, when Servadac noticed that his waist was encompassed
by an enormous girdle that bulged out to a very extraordinary extent.
"What's all this, Hakkabut?" he asked.
"It's only my little bit of money, your Excellency; my modest little fortune--
a mere bagatelle," said the Jew.
"And what may your little fortune weigh?" inquired the captain.
"Only about sixty-six pounds!" said Isaac.
"Sixty-six pounds!" cried Servadac. "We haven't reckoned for this."
"Merciful heavens!" began the Jew.
"Sixty-six pounds!" repeated Servadac. "We can hardly carry ourselves;
we can't have any dead weight here. Pitch it out, man, pitch it out!"
"God of Israel!" whined Hakkabut.
"Out with it, I say!" cried Servadac.
"What, all my money, which I have saved so long, and toiled for so hard?"
"It can't be helped," said the captain, unmoved.
"Oh, your Excellency!" cried the Jew.
"Now, old Nicodemus, listen to me," interposed Ben Zoof;
"you just get rid of that pouch of yours, or we will get rid of you.
Take your choice. Quick, or out you go!"
The avaricious old man was found to value his life above his money;
he made a lamentable outcry about it, but he unfastened his girdle at last,
and put it out of the car.
Very different was the case with Palmyrin Rosette. He avowed over and
over again his intention of never quitting the nucleus of his comet.
Why should he trust himself to a balloon, that would blaze
up like a piece of paper? Why should he leave the comet?
Why should he not go once again upon its surface into the far-off
realms of space?
His volubility was brought to a sudden check by Servadac's bidding
two of the sailors, without more ado, to take him in their arms
and put him quietly down at the bottom of the car.
To the great regret of their owners, the two horses and Nina's pet goat
were obliged to be left behind. The only creature for which there was found
a place was the carrier-pigeon that had brought the professor's message
to the Hive. Servadac thought it might probably be of service in carrying
some communication to the earth.
When every one, except the captain and his orderly, had taken their places,
Servadac said, "Get in, Ben Zoof."
"After you, sir," said Ben Zoof, respectfully.
"No, no!" insisted Servadac; "the captain must be the last to leave the ship!"
A moment's hesitation and the orderly clambered over the side of the car.
Servadac followed. The cords were cut. The balloon rose with stately
calmness into the air.
When the balloon had reached an elevation of about 2,500 yards,
Lieutenant Procope determined to maintain it at that level.
A wire-work stove, suspended below the casing, and filled
with lighted hay, served to keep the air in the interior at
a proper temperature.
Beneath their feet was extended the basin of the
Gallian Sea. An inconsiderable speck to the north marked
the site of Gourbi Island. Ceuta and Gibraltar, which might
have been expected in the west, had utterly disappeared.
On the south rose the volcano, the extremity of the promontory
that jutted out from the continent that formed the framework
of the sea; whilst in every direction the strange soil,
with its commixture of tellurium and gold, gleamed under the sun's
rays with a perpetual iridescence.
Apparently rising with them in their ascent, the horizon was
well-defined. The sky above them was perfectly clear; but away
in the northwest, in opposition to the sun, floated a new sphere,
so small that it could not be an asteroid, but like a dim meteor.
It was the fragment that the internal convulsion had rent from
the surface of the comet, and which was now many thousands of
leagues away, pursuing the new orbit into which it had been projected.
During the hours of daylight it was far from distinct, but after
nightfall it would assume a definite luster.
The object, however, of supreme interest was the great expanse
of the terrestrial disc, which was rapidly drawing down obliquely
towards them. It totally eclipsed an enormous portion of the
firmament above, and approaching with an ever-increasing velocity,
was now within half its average distance from the moon.
So close was it, that the two poles could not be embraced in one focus.
Irregular patches of greater or less brilliancy alternated on
its surface, the brighter betokening the continents, the more
somber indicating the oceans that absorbed the solar rays.
Above, there were broad white bands, darkened on the side averted
from the sun, exhibiting a slow but unintermittent movement;
these were the vapors that pervaded the terrestrial atmosphere.
But as the aeronauts were being hurried on at a speed of 70 miles a second,
this vague aspect of the earth soon developed itself into definite outlines.
Mountains and plains were no longer confused, the distinction between
sea and shore was more plainly identified, and instead of being,
as it were, depicted on a map, the surface of the earth appeared as though
modelled in relief.
Twenty-seven minutes past two, and Gallia is only 72,000 miles
from the terrestrial sphere; quicker and quicker is the velocity;
ten minutes later, and they are only 36,000 miles apart!
The whole configuration of the earth is clear.
"Europe! Russia! France!" shout Procope, the count, and Servadac,
almost in a breath.
And they are not mistaken. The eastern hemisphere lies before them
in the full blaze of light, and there is no possibility of error
in distinguishing continent from continent.
The surprise only kindled their emotion to yet keener intensity,
and it would be hard to describe the excitement with which they gazed
at the panorama that was before them. The crisis of peril was close
at hand, but imagination overleaped all consideration of danger;
and everything was absorbed in the one idea that they were again
within reach of that circle of humanity from which they had supposed
themselves severed forever.
And, truly, if they could have paused to study it, that panorama of the
states of Europe which was outstretched before their eyes, was conspicuous
for the fantastic resemblances with which Nature on the one hand,
and international relations on the other, have associated them.
There was England, marching like some stately dame towards the east,
trailing her ample skirts and coroneted with the cluster of her
little islets; Sweden and Norway, with their bristling spine
of mountains, seemed like a splendid lion eager to spring down from
the bosom of the ice-bound north; Russia, a gigantic polar bear,
stood with its head towards Asia, its left paw resting upon Turkey,
its right upon Mount Caucasus; Austria resembled a huge cat curled
up and sleeping a watchful sleep; Spain, with Portugal as a pennant,
like an unfurled banner, floated from the extremity of the continent;
Turkey, like an insolent cock, appeared to clutch the shores of Asia
with the one claw, and the land of Greece with the other; Italy, as it
were a foot and leg encased in a tight-fitting boot, was juggling deftly
with the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica; Prussia, a formidable
hatchet imbedded in the heart of Germany, its edge just grazing
the frontiers of France; whilst France itself suggested a vigorous
torso with Paris at its breast.
All at once Ben Zoof breaks the silence: "Montmartre! I see Montmartre!"
And, smile at the absurdity as others might, nothing could induce the worthy
orderly to surrender his belief that he could actually make out the features
of his beloved home.
The only individual whose soul seemed unstirred by the approaching earth was