Off on a Comet
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"No offense, my lord, I hope," stammered out the Jew. "I only meant--"
"Silence!" shouted Servadac. The old man hung his head, abashed.
"I will tell you what," said Servadac after a brief interval;
"I will give you leave to hear what this stranger has to tell
as soon as he is able to tell us anything; at present we have
not heard a word from his lips."
The Jew looked perplexed.
"Yes," said Servadac; "when we hear his story, you shall hear it too."
"And I hope it will be to your liking, old Ezekiel!" added Ben Zoof
in a voice of irony.
They had none of them long to wait, for within a few minutes Rosette's
peevish voice was heard calling, "Joseph! Joseph!"
The professor did not open his eyes, and appeared to be slumbering on,
but very shortly afterwards called out again, "Joseph! Confound the
fellow! where is he?" It was evident that he was half dreaming
about a former servant now far away on the ancient globe.
"Where's my blackboard, Joseph?"
"Quite safe, sir," answered Ben Zoof, quickly.
Rosette unclosed his eyes and fixed them full upon the orderly's face.
"Are you Joseph?" he asked.
"At your service, sir," replied Ben Zoof with imperturbable gravity.
"Then get me my coffee, and be quick about it."
Ben Zoof left to go into the kitchen, and Servadac approached the professor
in order to assist him in rising to a sitting posture.
"Do you recognize your quondam pupil, professor?" he asked.
"Ah, yes, yes; you are Servadac," replied Rosette. "It is twelve
years or more since I saw you; I hope you have improved."
"Quite a reformed character, sir, I assure you," said Servadac, smiling.
"Well, that's as it should be; that's right," said the astronomer with
fussy importance. "But let me have my coffee," he added impatiently;
"I cannot collect my thoughts without my coffee."
Fortunately, Ben Zoof appeared with a great cup, hot and strong.
After draining it with much apparent relish, the professor got
out of bed, walked into the common hall, round which he glanced
with a pre-occupied air, and proceeded to seat himself in an armchair,
the most comfortable which the cabin of the _Dobryna_ had supplied.
Then, in a voice full of satisfaction, and that involuntarily
recalled the exclamations of delight that had wound up the two first
of the mysterious documents that had been received, he burst out,
"Well, gentlemen, what do you think of Gallia?"
There was no time for anyone to make a reply before Isaac Hakkabut
had darted forward.
"By the God--"
"Who is that?" asked the startled professor; and he frowned,
and made a gesture of repugnance.
Regardless of the efforts that were made to silence him,
the Jew continued, "By the God of Abraham, I beseech you,
give me some tidings of Europe!"
"Europe?" shouted the professor, springing from his seat as if
he were electrified; "what does the man want with Europe?"
"I want to get there!" screeched the Jew; and in spite of every exertion
to get him away, he clung most tenaciously to the professor's chair,
and again and again implored for news of Europe.
Rosette made no immediate reply. After a moment or two's reflection,
he turned to Servadac and asked him whether it was not the middle of April.
"It is the twentieth," answered the captain.
"Then to-day," said the astronomer, speaking with the greatest
deliberation--"to-day we are just three millions of leagues
away from Europe."
The Jew was utterly crestfallen.
"You seem here," continued the professor, "to be very ignorant
of the state of things."
"How far we are ignorant," rejoined Servadac, "I cannot tell.
But I will tell you all that we do know, and all that we have surmised."
And as briefly as he could, he related all that had happened
since the memorable night of the thirty-first of December; how they
had experienced the shock; how the _Dobryna_ had made her voyage;
how they had discovered nothing except the fragments of the old
continent at Tunis, Sardinia, Gibraltar, and now at Formentera;
how at intervals the three anonymous documents had been received;
and, finally, how the settlement at Gourbi Island had been abandoned
for their present quarters at Nina's Hive.
The astronomer had hardly patience to hear him to the end.
"And what do you say is your surmise as to your present position?"
"Our supposition," the captain replied, "is this. We imagine that we
are on a considerable fragment of the terrestrial globe that has been
detached by collision with a planet to which you appear to have given
the name of Gallia."
"Better than that!" cried Rosette, starting to his feet with excitement.
"How? Why? What do you mean?" cried the voices of the listeners.
"You are correct to a certain degree," continued the professor.
"It is quite true that at 47' 35.6" after two o'clock on the morning
of the first of January there was a collision; my comet grazed the earth;
and the bits of the earth which you have named were carried clean away."
They were all fairly bewildered.
"Where, then," cried Servadac eagerly, "where are we?"
"You are on my comet, on Gallia itself!"
And the professor gazed around him with a perfect air of triumph.
THE PROFESSOR'S EXPERIENCES
"Yes, my comet!" repeated the professor, and from time to time
he knitted his brows, and looked around him with a defiant air,
as though he could not get rid of the impression that someone
was laying an unwarranted claim to its proprietorship,
or that the individuals before him were intruders upon his
own proper domain.
But for a considerable while, Servadac, the count,
and the lieutenant remained silent and sunk in thought.
Here then, at last, was the unriddling of the enigma they
had been so long endeavoring to solve; both the hypotheses
they had formed in succession had now to give way before
the announcement of the real truth. The first supposition,
that the rotatory axis of the earth had been subject to some
accidental modification, and the conjecture that replaced it,
namely, that a certain portion of the terrestrial sphere had been
splintered off and carried into space, had both now to yield
to the representation that the earth had been grazed by an
unknown comet, which had caught up some scattered fragments from
its surface, and was bearing them far away into sidereal regions.
Unfolded lay the past and the present before them; but this
only served to awaken a keener interest about the future.
Could the professor throw any light upon that? they longed
to inquire, but did not yet venture to ask him.
Meanwhile Rosette assumed a pompous professional air, and appeared to be
waiting for the entire party to be ceremoniously introduced to him.
Nothing unwilling to humor the vanity of the eccentric little man,
Servadac proceeded to go through the expected formalities.
"Allow me to present to you my excellent friend, the Count Timascheff,"
"You are very welcome," said Rosette, bowing to the count
with a smile of condescension.
"Although I am not precisely a voluntary resident on your comet,
Mr. Professor, I beg to acknowledge your courteous reception,"
gravely responded Timascheff.
Servadac could not quite conceal his amusement at the count's irony,
but continued, "This is Lieutenant Procope, the officer in command
of the _Dobryna_."
The professor bowed again in frigid dignity.
"His yacht has conveyed us right round Gallia," added the captain.
"Round Gallia?" eagerly exclaimed the professor.
"Yes, entirely round it," answered Servadac, and without allowing
time for reply, proceeded, "And this is my orderly, Ben Zoof."
"Aide-de-camp to his Excellency the Governor of Gallia,"
interposed Ben Zoof himself, anxious to maintain his master's
honor as well as his own.
Rosette scarcely bent his head.
The rest of the population of the Hive were all presented in succession:
the Russian sailors, the Spaniards, young Pablo, and little Nina,
on whom the professor, evidently no lover of children, glared fiercely
through his formidable spectacles. Isaac Hakkabut, after his introduction,
begged to be allowed to ask one question.