Off on a Comet
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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