Off on a Comet
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ebb and flow of the waters--a thing unknown in the Mediterranean,
where there is scarcely any perceptible tide. What, however,
seemed most remarkable, was the manifest evidence that ever
since the highest flood (which was caused, in all probability,
by the proximity of the body of which the huge disc had
been so conspicuous on the night of the 31st of December)
the phenomenon had been gradually lessening, and in fact was
now reduced to the normal limits which had characterized it
before the convulsion.
Without doing more than note the circumstance, Servadac turned his
entire attention to the _Dobryna_, which, now little more than a mile
from shore, could not fail to see and understand his signals.
Slightly changing her course, she first struck her mainsail,
and, in order to facilitate the movements of her helmsman,
soon carried nothing but her two topsails, brigantine and jib.
After rounding the peak, she steered direct for the channel
to which Servadac by his gestures was pointing her, and was not
long in entering the creek. As soon as the anchor, imbedded in
the sandy bottom, had made good its hold, a boat was lowered.
In a few minutes more Count Timascheff had landed on the island.
Captain Servadac hastened towards him.
"First of all, count," he exclaimed impetuously, "before we speak
one other word, tell me what has happened."
The count, whose imperturbable composure presented a singular
contrast to the French officer's enthusiastic vivacity,
made a stiff bow, and in his Russian accent replied:
"First of all, permit me to express my surprise at seeing you here.
I left you on a continent, and here I have the honor of finding
you on an island."
"I assure you, count, I have never left the place."
"I am quite aware of it. Captain Servadac, and I now beg to offer you
my sincere apologies for failing to keep my appointment with you."
"Never mind, now," interposed the captain; "we will talk
of that by-and-by. First, tell me what has happened."
"The very question I was about to put to you, Captain Servadac."
"Do you mean to say you know nothing of the cause, and can tell me nothing
of the extent, of the catastrophe which has transformed this part of Africa
into an island?"
"Nothing more than you know yourself."
"But surely, Count Timascheff, you can inform me whether upon
the northern shore of the Mediterranean--"
"Are you certain that this is the Mediterranean?"
asked the count significantly, and added, "I have discovered
no sign of land."
The captain stared in silent bewilderment. For some moments
he seemed perfectly stupefied; then, recovering himself, he began
to overwhelm the count with a torrent of questions. Had he noticed,
ever since the 1st of January, that the sun had risen in the west?
Had he noticed that the days had been only six hours long,
and that the weight of the atmosphere was so much diminished?
Had he observed that the moon had quite disappeared, and that
the earth had been in imminent hazard of running foul of the
planet Venus? Was he aware, in short, that the entire motions
of the terrestrial sphere had undergone a complete modification?
To all these inquiries, the count responded in the affirmative.
He was acquainted with everything that had transpired; but, to Servadac's
increasing astonishment, he could throw no light upon the cause
of any of the phenomena.
"On the night of the 31st of December," he said, "I was proceeding
by sea to our appointed place of meeting, when my yacht was suddenly
caught on the crest of an enormous wave, and carried to a height
which it is beyond my power to estimate. Some mysterious force
seemed to have brought about a convulsion of the elements.
Our engine was damaged, nay disabled, and we drifted entirely at the mercy
of the terrible hurricane that raged during the succeeding days.
That the _Dobryna_ escaped at all is little less than a miracle,
and I can only attribute her safety to the fact that she occupied
the center of the vast cyclone, and consequently did not experience
much change of position."
He paused, and added: "Your island is the first land we have seen."
"Then let us put out to sea at once and ascertain the extent of the disaster,"
cried the captain, eagerly. "You will take me on board, count, will you not?"
"My yacht is at your service, sir, even should you require to make a tour
round the world."
"A tour round the Mediterranean will suffice for the present, I think,"
said the captain, smiling.
The count shook his head.
"I am not sure," said he, "but what the tour of the Mediterranean
will prove to be the tour of the world."
Servadac made no reply, but for a time remained silent and
absorbed in thought.
After the silence was broken, they consulted as to what course was
best to pursue; and the plan they proposed was, in the first place,
to discover how much of the African coast still remained, and to carry
on the tidings of their own experiences to Algiers; or, in the event
of the southern shore having actually disappeared, they would make their
way northwards and put themselves in communication with the population
on the river banks of Europe.
Before starting, it was indispensable that the engine of the
_Dobryna_ should be repaired: to sail under canvas only would
in contrary winds and rough seas be both tedious and difficult.
The stock of coal on board was adequate for two months' consumption;
but as it would at the expiration of that time be exhausted,
it was obviously the part of prudence to employ it in reaching
a port where fuel could be replenished.
The damage sustained by the engine proved to be not very serious;
and in three days after her arrival the _Dobryna_ was again ready
to put to sea.
Servadac employed the interval in making the count acquainted
with all he knew about his small domain. They made an entire
circuit of the island, and both agreed that it must be beyond
the limits of that circumscribed territory that they must seek
an explanation of what had so strangely. transpired.
It was on the last day of January that the repairs of the schooner
were completed. A slight diminution in the excessively high
temperature which had prevailed for the last few weeks, was the only
apparent change in the general order of things; but whether this
was to be attributed to any alteration in the earth's orbit was
a question which would still require several days to decide.
The weather remained fine, and although a few clouds had accumulated,
and might have caused a trifling fall of the barometer, they were not
sufficiently threatening to delay the departure of the _Dobryna_.
Doubts now arose, and some discussion followed, whether or
not it was desirable for Ben Zoof to accompany his master.
There were various reasons why he should be left behind, not the least
important being that the schooner had no accommodation for horses,
and the orderly would have found it hard to part with Zephyr,
and much more with his own favorite Galette; besides, it was advisable
that there should be some one left to receive any strangers that
might possibly arrive, as well as to keep an eye upon the herds
of cattle which, in the dubious prospect before them, might prove
to be the sole resource of the survivors of the catastrophe.
Altogether, taking into consideration that the brave fellow would
incur no personal risk by remaining upon the island, the captain was
induced with much reluctance to forego the attendance of his servant,
hoping very shortly to return and to restore him to his country,
when he had ascertained the reason of the mysteries in which
they were enveloped.
On the 31st, then, Ben Zoof was "invested with governor's powers,"
and took an affecting leave of his master, begging him, if chance
should carry him near Montmartre, to ascertain whether the beloved
"mountain" had been left unmoved.
Farewells over, the _Dobryna_ was carefully steered through the creek,
and was soon upon the open sea.
A SEARCH FOR ALGERIA
The _Dobryna_, a strong craft of 200 tons burden, had been built
in the famous shipbuilding yards in the Isle of Wight. Her sea
going qualities were excellent, and would have amply sufficed for a
circumnavigation of the globe. Count Timascheff was himself no sailor,
but had the greatest confidence in leaving the command of his yacht
in the hands of Lieutenant Procope, a man of about thirty years of age,
and an excellent seaman. Born on the count's estates, the son
of a serf who had been emancipated long before the famous edict
of the Emperor Alexander, Procope was sincerely attached, by a tie
of gratitude as well as of duty and affection, to his patron's service.
After an apprenticeship on a merchant ship he had entered
the imperial navy, and had already reached the rank of lieutenant
when the count appointed him to the charge of his own private yacht,
in which he was accustomed to spend by far the greater part of his time,
throughout the winter generally cruising in the Mediterranean,
whilst in the summer he visited more northern waters.
The ship could not have been in better hands. The lieutenant was
well informed in many matters outside the pale of his profession,
and his attainments were alike creditable to himself
and to the liberal friend who had given him his education.
He had an excellent crew, consisting of Tiglew the engineer,
four sailors named Niegoch, Tolstoy, Etkef, and Panofka,
and Mochel the cook. These men, without exception, were all sons
of the count's tenants, and so tenaciously, even out at sea,
did they cling to their old traditions, that it mattered little
to them what physical disorganization ensued, so long as they
felt they were sharing the experiences of their lord and master.
The late astounding events, however, had rendered Procope
manifestly uneasy, and not the less so from his consciousness