Part 3 out of 7
Yes, France is _there!_ Come, count, come! By all that's pitiful,
I entreat you, come and explore the farthest verge of the ice-bound track!"
He pushed onwards along the rugged surface of the rock,
but had not proceeded far before he came to a sudden pause.
His foot had come in contact with something hard beneath the snow,
and, stooping down, he picked up a little block of stony substance,
which the first glance revealed to be of a geological
character altogether alien to the universal rocks around.
It proved to be a fragment of dis-colored marble, on which several
letters were inscribed, of which the only part at all decipherable
was the syllable "Vil."
"Vil--Villa!" he cried out, in his excitement dropping the marble,
which was broken into atoms by the fall.
What else could this fragment be but the sole surviving remnant
of some sumptuous mansion that once had stood on this unrivaled site?
Was it not the residue of some edifice that had crowned the luxuriant
headland of Antibes, overlooking Nice, and commanding the gorgeous panorama
that embraced the Maritime Alps and reached beyond Monaco and Mentone
to the Italian height of Bordighera? And did it not give in its sad
and too convincing testimony that Antibes itself had been involved
in the great destruction? Servadac gazed upon the shattered marble,
pensive and disheartened.
Count Timascheff laid his hand kindly on the captain's shoulder, and said,
"My friend, do you not remember the motto of the old Hope family?"
He shook his head mournfully.
"_Orbe fracto, spes illoesa_," continued the count--"Though the world
be shattered, hope is unimpaired."
Servadac smiled faintly, and replied that he felt rather compelled
to take up the despairing cry of Dante, "All hope abandon,
ye who enter here."
"Nay, not so," answered the count; "for the present at least,
let our maxim be _Nil desperandum!_"
A SECOND ENIGMA
Upon re-embarking, the bewildered explorers began to discuss the question
whether it would not now be desirable to make their way back to Gourbi Island,
which was apparently the only spot in their new world from which they could
hope to derive their future sustenance. Captain Servadac tried to console
himself with the reflection that Gourbi Island was, after all, a fragment
of a French colony, and as such almost like a bit of his dear France;
and the plan of returning thither was on the point of being adopted,
when Lieutenant Procope remarked that they ought to remember that they
had not hitherto made an entire circuit of the new shores of the sea on
which they were sailing.
"We have," he said, "neither investigated the northern shore from the site
of Cape Antibes to the strait that brought us to Gibraltar, nor have we
followed the southern shore that stretches from the strait to the Gulf
of Cabes. It is the old coast, and not the new, that we have been tracing;
as yet, we cannot say positively that there is no outlet to the south;
as yet, we cannot assert that no oasis of the African desert has escaped
the catastrophe. Perhaps, even here in the north, we may find that
Italy and Sicily and the larger islands of the Mediterranean may still
maintain their existence."
"I entirely concur with you," said Count Timascheff.
"I quite think we ought to make our survey of the confines
of this new basin as complete as possible before we withdraw."
Servadac, although he acknowledged the justness of these observations,
could not help pleading that the explorations might be deferred until
after a visit had been paid to Gourbi Island.
"Depend upon it, captain, you are mistaken," replied the lieutenant;"
the right thing to do is to use the _Dobryna_ while she is available."
"Available! What do you mean?" asked the count, somewhat taken by surprise.
"I mean," said Procope, "that the farther this Gallia of ours
recedes from the sun, the lower the temperature will fall.
It is likely enough, I think, that before long the sea
will be frozen over, and navigation will be impossible.
Already you have learned something of the difficulties of
traversing a field of ice, and I am sure, therefore, you will
acquiesce in my wish to continue our explorations while the water
is still open."
"No doubt you are right, lieutenant," said the count.
"We will continue our search while we can for some remaining
fragment of Europe. Who shall tell whether we may not meet
with some more survivors from the catastrophe, to whom it
might be in our power to afford assistance, before we go into
our winter quarters?"
Generous and altogether unselfish as this sentiment really was,
it was obviously to the general interest that they should
become acquainted, and if possible establish friendly relations,
with any human inhabitant who might be sharing their own strange
destiny in being rolled away upon a new planet into the infinitude
of space. All difference of race, all distinction of nationality,
must be merged into the one thought that, few as they were,
they were the sole surviving representatives of a world which it
seemed exceedingly improbable that they would ever see again;
and common sense dictated that they were bound to direct all
their energies to insure that their asteroid should at least
have a united and sympathizing population.
It was on the 25th of February that the yacht left the little
creek in which she had taken refuge, and setting off at full
steam eastwards, she continued her way along the northern shore.
A brisk breeze tended to increase the keenness of the temperature,
the thermometer being, on an average, about two degrees below zero.
Salt water freezes only at a lower temperature than fresh;
the course of the _Dobryna_ was therefore unimpeded by ice,
but it could not be concealed that there was the greatest necessity
to maintain the utmost possible speed.
The nights continued lovely; the chilled condition of the atmosphere
prevented the formation of clouds; the constellations gleamed
forth with unsullied luster; and, much as Lieutenant Procope,
from nautical considerations, might regret the absence of the moon,
he could not do otherwise than own that the magnificent nights
of Gallia were such as must awaken the enthusiasm of an astronomer.
And, as if to compensate for the loss of the moonlight,
the heavens were illuminated by a superb shower of falling stars,
far exceeding, both in number and in brilliancy, the phenomena
which are commonly distinguished as the August and November meteors;
in fact, Gallia was passing through that meteoric ring which is known
to lie exterior to the earth's orbit, but almost concentric with it.
The rocky coast, its metallic surface reflecting the glow of
the dazzling luminaries, appeared literally stippled with light,
whilst the sea, as though spattered with burning hailstones,
shone with a phosphorescence that was perfectly splendid.
So great, however, was the speed at which Gallia was receding
from the sun, that this meteoric storm lasted scarcely more than
four and twenty hours.
Next day the direct progress of the _Dobryna_ was arrested by a
long projection of land, which obliged her to turn southwards,
until she reached what formerly would have been the southern
extremity of Corsica. Of this, however, there was now no trace;
the Strait of Boni-facio had been replaced by a vast expanse of water,
which had at first all the appearance of being utterly desert;
but on the following morning the explorers unexpectedly sighted
a little island, which, unless it should prove, as was only too likely,
to be of recent origin they concluded, from its situation,
must be a portion of the northernmost territory of Sardinia.
The _Dobryna_ approached the land as nearly as was prudent,
the boat was lowered, and in a few minutes the count and Servadac
had landed upon the islet, which was a mere plot of meadow land,
not much more than two acres in extent, dotted here and there with a few
myrtle-bushes and lentisks, interspersed with some ancient olives.
Having ascertained, as they imagined, that the spot was devoid of
living creature, they were on the point of returning to their boat,
when their attention was arrested by a faint bleating, and immediately
afterwards a solitary she-goat came bounding towards the shore.
The creature had dark, almost black hair, and small curved horns,
and was a specimen of that domestic breed which, with considerable
justice, has gained for itself the title of "the poor man's cow."
So far from being alarmed at the presence of strangers, the goat ran
nimbly towards them, and then, by its movements and plaintive cries,
seemed to be enticing them to follow it.
"Come," said Servadac; "let us see where it will lead us;
it is more than probable it is not alone."
The count agreed; and the animal, as if comprehending what was said,
trotted on gently for about a hundred paces, and stopped in front of a
kind of cave or burrow that was half concealed by a grove of lentisks.
Here a little girl, seven or eight years of age, with rich brown
hair and lustrous dark eyes, beautiful as one of Murillo's angels,
was peeping shyly through the branches. Apparently discovering nothing
in the aspect of the strangers to excite her apprehensions, the child
suddenly gained confidence, darted forwards with outstretched hands,
and in a voice, soft and melodious as the language which she spoke,
said in Italian:
"I like you; you will not hurt me, will you?"
"Hurt you, my child?" answered Servadac. "No, indeed;
we will be your friends; we will take care of you."
And after a few moments' scrutiny of the pretty maiden, he added:
"Tell us your name, little one."
"Nina!" was the child's reply.
"Well, then, Nina, can you tell us where we are?"
"At Madalena, I think," said the little girl; "at least, I know I
was there when that dreadful shock came and altered everything."
The count knew that Madalena was close to Caprera, to the north
of Sardinia, which had entirely disappeared in the disaster.
By dint of a series of questions, he gained from the child
a very intelligent account of her experiences. She told him
that she had no parents, and had been employed in taking
care of a flock of goats belonging to one of the landowners,
when one day, all of a sudden, everything around her,
except this little piece of land, had been swallowed up,
and that she and Marzy, her pet goat, had been left quite alone.
She went on to say that at first she had been very frightened;
but when she found that the earth did not shake any more,
she had thanked the great God, and had soon made herself very happy
living with Marzy. She had enough food, she said, and had been
waiting for a boat to fetch her, and now a boat had come and she
was quite ready to go away; only they must let her goat go with her:
they would both like so much to get back to the old farm.
"Here, at least, is one nice little inhabitant of Gallia,"
said Captain Servadac, as he caressed the child and conducted
her to the boat.
Half an hour later, both Nina and Marzy were safely quartered
on board the yacht. It is needless to say that they received
the heartiest of welcomes. The Russian sailors, ever superstitious,
seemed almost to regard the coming of the child as the appearance
of an angel; and, incredible as it may seem, more than one of them
wondered whether she had wings, and amongst themselves they commonly
referred to her as "the little Madonna."
Soon out of sight of Madalena, the _Dobryna_ for some hours
held a southeasterly course along the shore, which here was
fifty leagues in advance of the former coast-line of Italy,
demonstrating that a new continent must have been formed,
substituted as it were for the old peninsula, of which not
a vestige could be identified. At a latitude corresponding
with the latitude of Rome, the sea took the form of a deep gulf,
extending back far beyond the site of the Eternal City;
the coast making a wide sweep round to the former position
of Calabria, and jutting far beyond the outline of "the boot,"
which Italy resembles. But the beacon of Messina was not to
be discerned; no trace, indeed, survived of any portion of Sicily;
the very peak of Etna, 11,000 feet as it had reared itself
above the level of the sea, had vanished utterly.
Another sixty leagues to the south, and the _Dobryna_ sighted
the entrance of the strait which had afforded her so providential
a refuge from the tempest, and had conducted her to the fragmentary relic
of Gibraltar. Hence to the Gulf of Cabes had been already explored,
and as it was universally allowed that it was unnecessary to
renew the search in that direction, the lieutenant started off
in a transverse course, towards a point hitherto uninvestigated.
That point was reached on the 3rd of March, and thence the coast
was continuously followed, as it led through what had been Tunis,
across the province of Constantine, away to the oasis of Ziban;
where, taking a sharp turn, it first reached a latitude of 32 degrees,
and then returned again, thus forming a sort of irregular gulf,
enclosed by the same unvarying border of mineral concrete.
This colossal boundary then stretched away for nearly 150 leagues
over the Sahara desert, and, extending to the south of Gourbi Island,
occupied what, if Morocco had still existed, would have been
its natural frontier.
Adapting her course to these deviations of the coastline, the _Dobryna_
was steering northwards, and had barely reached the limit of the bay,
when the attention of all on board was arrested by the phenomenon
of a volcano, at least 3,000 feet high, its crater crowned with smoke,
which occasionally was streaked by tongues of flame.
"A burning mountain!" they exclaimed.
"Gallia, then, has some internal heat," said Servadac.
"And why not, captain?" rejoined the lieutenant. "If our asteroid
has carried with it a portion of the old earth's atmosphere,
why should it not likewise retain something of its central fire?"
"Ah, well!" said the captain, shrugging his shoulders, "I dare say
there is caloric enough in our little world to supply the wants
of its population."
Count Timascheff interrupted the silence that followed this conversation
by saying, "And now, gentlemen, as our course has brought us on our way once
more towards Gibraltar, what do you say to our renewing our acquaintance
with the Englishmen? They will be interested in the result of our voyage."
"For my part," said Servadac, "I have no desire that way.
They know where to find Gourbi Island; they can betake themselves
thither just when they please. They have plenty of provisions.
If the water freezes, 120 leagues is no very great distance.
The reception they gave us was not so cordial that we need put
ourselves out of the way to repeat our visit."
"What you say is too true," replied the count. "I hope we shall show
them better manners when they condescend to visit us."
"Ay," said Servadac, "we must remember that we are all one people now;
no longer Russian, French, or English. Nationality is extinct."
"I am sadly afraid, however," continued the count, "that an Englishman
will be an Englishman ever."
"Yes," said the captain, "that is always their failing."
And thus all further thought of making their way again to the little
garrison of Gibraltar was abandoned.
But even if their spirit of courtesy had disposed them to renew their
acquaintance with the British officers, there were two circumstances
that just then would have rendered such a proposal very unadvisable.
In the first place, Lieutenant Procope was convinced that it could not be
much longer now before the sea would be entirely frozen; and, besides this,
the consumption of their coal, through the speed they had maintained,
had been so great that there was only too much reason to fear that fuel
would fail them. Anyhow, the strictest economy was necessary, and it
was accordingly resolved that the voyage should not be much prolonged.
Beyond the volcanic peak, moreover, the waters seemed to expand
into a boundless ocean, and it might be a thing full of risk
to be frozen up while the yacht was so inadequately provisioned.
Taking all these things into account, it was agreed that further
investigations should be deferred to a more favorable season, and that,
without delay, the _Dobryna_ should return to Gourbi Island.
This decision was especially welcome to Hector Servadac, who,
throughout the whole of the last five weeks, had been agitated
by much anxious thought on account of the faithful servant
he had left behind.
The transit from the volcano to the island was not long,
and was marked by only one noticeable incident.
This was the finding of a second mysterious document,
in character precisely similar to what they had found before.
The writer of it was evidently engaged upon a calculation,
probably continued from day to day, as to the motions of
the planet Gallia upon its orbit, and committing the results
of his reckonings to the waves as the channel of communication.
Instead of being enclosed in a telescope-case, it was this
time secured in a preserved-meat tin, hermetically sealed,
and stamped with the same initials on the wax that fastened it.
The greatest care was used in opening it, and it was found
to contain the following message:
Ab sole, au 1 mars, dist. 78,000,000 1.!
Chemin parcouru de fev. a mars: 59,000,000 1.!
_Va bene! All right! Nil desperandum!_
"Another enigma!" exclaimed Servadac; "and still no intelligible signature,
and no address. No clearing up of the mystery!"
"I have no doubt, in my own mind," said the count, "that it
is one of a series. It seems to me probable that they are being
sent broadcast upon the sea."
"I wonder where the hare-brained _savant_ that writes them can
be living?" observed Servadac.
"Very likely he may have met with the fate of AEsop's abstracted astronomer,
who found himself at the bottom of a well."
"Ay; but where _is_ that well?" demanded the captain.
This was a question which the count was incapable of settling;
and they could only speculate afresh as to whether the author of the
riddles was dwelling upon some solitary island, or, like themselves,
was navigating the waters of the new Mediterranean. But they could
detect nothing to guide them to a definite decision.
After thoughtfully regarding the document for some time.
Lieutenant Procope proceeded to observe that he believed the paper
might be considered as genuine, and accordingly, taking its
statements as reliable, he deduced two important conclusions:
first, that whereas, in the month of January, the distance
traveled by the planet (hypothet-ically called Gallia)
had been recorded as 82,000,000 leagues, the distance traveled
in February was only 59,- 000,000 leagues--a difference of
23,000,000 leagues in one month; secondly, that the distance
of the planet from the sun, which on the 15th of February had been
59,000,000 leagues, was on the 1st of March 78,000,000 leagues--
an increase of 19,000,000 leagues in a fortnight.
Thus, in proportion as Gallia receded from the sun, so did
the rate of speed diminish by which she traveled along her orbit;
facts to be observed in perfect conformity with the known laws
of celestial mechanism.
"And your inference?" asked the count.
"My inference," replied the lieutenant, "is a confirmation of my surmise
that we are following an orbit decidedly elliptical, although we have not yet
the material to determine its eccentricity."
"As the writer adheres to the appellation of Gallia, do you not think,"
asked the count, "that we might call these new waters the Gallian Sea?"
"There can be no reason to the contrary, count," replied the lieutenant;
"and as such I will insert it upon my new chart."
"Our friend," said Servadac, "seems to be more and more gratified
with the condition of things; not only has he adopted our motto,
'_Nil desperandum!_' but see how enthusiastically he has wound up
with his '_Enchante!_'"
The conversation dropped.
A few hours later the man on watch announced that Gourbi Island
was in sight.
AN UNEXPECTED POPULATION
The _Dobryna_ was now back again at the island. Her cruise had lasted
from the 31st of January to the 5th of March, a period of thirty-five days
(for it was leap year), corresponding to seventy days as accomplished
by the new little world.
Many a time during his absence Hector Servadac had wondered how his
present vicissitudes would end, and he had felt some misgivings
as to whether he should ever again set foot upon the island, and see
his faithful orderly, so that it was not without emotion that he had
approached the coast of the sole remaining fragment of Algerian soil.
But his apprehensions were groundless; Gourbi Island was just as he had
left it, with nothing unusual in its aspect, except that a very peculiar cloud
was hovering over it, at an altitude of little more than a hundred feet.
As the yacht approached the shore, this cloud appeared to rise
and fall as if acted upon by some invisible agency, and the captain,
after watching it carefully, perceived that it was not an accumulation
of vapors at all, but a dense mass of birds packed as closely together
as a swarm of herrings, and uttering deafening and discordant cries,
amidst which from time to time the noise of the report of a gun could
be plainly distinguished.
The _Dobryna_ signalized her arrival by firing her cannon, and dropped
anchor in the little port of the Shelif. Almost within a minute
Ben Zoof was seen running, gun in hand, towards the shore; he cleared
the last ridge of rocks at a single bound, and then suddenly halted.
For a few seconds he stood motionless, his eyes fixed, as if obeying
the instructions of a drill sergeant, on a point some fifteen
yards distant, his whole attitude indicating submission and respect;
but the sight of the captain, who was landing, was too much
for his equanimity, and darting forward, he seized his master's
hand and covered it with kisses. Instead, however, of uttering
any expressions of welcome or rejoicing at the captain's return,
Ben Zoof broke out into the most vehement ejaculations.
"Thieves, captain! beastly thieves! Bedouins! pirates! devils!"
"Why, Ben Zoof, what's the matter?" said Servadac soothingly.
"They are thieves! downright, desperate thieves! those infernal birds!
That's what's the matter. It is a good thing you have come.
Here have I for a whole month been spending my powder and shot
upon them, and the more I kill them, the worse they get; and yet,
if I were to leave them alone, we should not have a grain of corn
upon the island."
It was soon evident that the orderly had only too much cause for alarm.
The crops had ripened rapidly during the excessive heat of January,
when the orbit of Gallia was being traversed at its perihelion,
and were now exposed to the depredations of many thousands of birds;
and although a goodly number of stacks attested the industry of
Ben Zoof during the time of the _Dobryna_'s voyage, it was only too
apparent that the portion of the harvest that remained ungathered
was liable to the most imminent risk of being utterly devoured.
It was, perhaps, only natural that this clustered mass of birds,
as representing the whole of the feathered tribe upon the surface
of Gallia, should resort to Gourbi Island, of which the meadows
seemed to be the only spot from which they could get sustenance
at all; but as this sustenance would be obtained at the expense,
and probably to the serious detriment, of the human population,
it was absolutely necessary that every possible resistance should
be made to the devastation that was threatened.
Once satisfied that Servadac and his friends would cooperate with him
in the raid upon "the thieves," Ben Zoof became calm and content,
and began to make various inquiries. "And what has become,"
he said, "of all our old comrades in Africa?"
"As far as I can tell you," answered the captain, "they are all
in Africa still; only Africa isn't by any means where we expected
to find it."
"And France? Montmartre?" continued Ben Zoof eagerly.
Here was the cry of the poor fellow's heart.
As briefly as he could, Servadac endeavored to explain
the true condition of things; he tried to communicate the fact
that Paris, France, Europe, nay, the whole world was more
than eighty millions of leagues away from Gourbi Island;
as gently and cautiously as he could he expressed his fear that
they might never see Europe, France, Paris, Montmartre again.
"No, no, sir!" protested Ben Zoof emphatically; "that is all nonsense.
It is altogether out of the question to suppose that we are not to
see Montmartre again." And the orderly shook his head resolutely,
with the air of a man determined, in spite of argument, to adhere
to his own opinion.
"Very good, my brave fellow," replied Servadac, "hope on,
hope while you may. The message has come to us over the sea,
'Never despair'; but one thing, nevertheless, is certain;
we must forthwith commence arrangements for making this island
our permanent home."
Captain Servadac now led the way to the gourbi, which, by his
servant's exertions, had been entirely rebuilt; and here he did
the honors of his modest establishment to his two guests, the count
and the lieutenant, and gave a welcome, too, to little Nina,
who had accompanied them on shore, and between whom and Ben Zoof
the most friendly relations had already been established.
The adjacent building continued in good preservation, and Captain Servadac's
satisfaction was very great in finding the two horses, Zephyr and Galette,
comfortably housed there and in good condition.
After the enjoyment of some refreshment, the party proceeded to a general
consultation as to what steps must be taken for their future welfare.
The most pressing matter that came before them was the consideration
of the means to be adopted to enable the inhabitants of Gallia
to survive the terrible cold, which, in their ignorance of
the true eccentricity of their orbit, might, for aught they knew,
last for an almost indefinite period. Fuel was far from abundant;
of coal there was none; trees and shrubs were few in number, and to cut
them down in prospect of the cold seemed a very questionable policy;
but there was no doubt some expedient must be devised to prevent disaster,
and that without delay.
The victualing of the little colony offered no immediate difficulty.
Water was abundant, and the cisterns could hardly fail to be replenished
by the numerous streams that meandered along the plains; moreover,
the Gallian Sea would ere long be frozen over, and the melted ice
(water in its congealed state being divested of every particle of salt)
would afford a supply of drink that could not be exhausted.
The crops that were now ready for the harvest, and the flocks
and herds scattered over the island, would form an ample reserve.
There was little doubt that throughout the winter the soil
would remain unproductive, and no fresh fodder for domestic
animals could then be obtained; it would therefore be necessary,
if the exact duration of Gallia's year should ever be calculated,
to proportion the number of animals to be reserved to the real
length of the winter.
The next thing requisite was to arrive at a true estimate of the number
of the population. Without including the thirteen Englishmen at Gibraltar,
about whom he was not particularly disposed to give himself much
concern at present, Servadac put down the names of the eight Russians,
the two Frenchman, and the little Italian girl, eleven in all,
as the entire list of the inhabitants of Gourbi Island.
"Oh, pardon me," interposed Ben Zoof, "you are mistaking
the state of the case altogether. You will be surprised to
learn that the total of people on the island is double that.
It is twenty-two."
"Twenty-two!" exclaimed the captain; "twenty-two people on this island?
What do you mean?"
"The opportunity has not occurred," answered Ben Zoof, "for me
to tell you before, but I have had company."
"Explain yourself, Ben Zoof," said Servadac. "What company have you had?"
"You could not suppose," replied the orderly, "that my own unassisted hands
could have accomplished all that harvest work that you see has been done."
"I confess," said Lieutenant Procope, "we do not seem to have noticed that."
"Well, then," said Ben Zoof, "if you will be good enough to come
with me for about a mile, I shall be able to show you my companions.
But we must take our guns,"
"Why take our guns?" asked Servadac. "I hope we are not going to fight."
"No, not with men," said Ben Zoof; "but it does not answer to throw
a chance away for giving battle to those thieves of birds."
Leaving little Nina and her goat in the gourbi, Servadac, Count Timascheff,
and the lieutenant, greatly mystified, took up their guns and followed
the orderly. All along their way they made unsparing slaughter of the birds
that hovered over and around them. Nearly every species of the feathered
tribe seemed to have its representative in that living cloud.
There were wild ducks in thousands; snipe, larks, rooks, and swallows;
a countless variety of sea-birds--widgeons, gulls, and seamews;
beside a quantity of game--quails, partridges, and woodcocks.
The sportsmen did their best; every shot told; and the depredators fell
by dozens on either hand.
Instead of following the northern shore of the island,
Ben Zoof cut obliquely across the plain. Making their progress
with the unwonted rapidity which was attributable to their
specific lightness, Servadac and his companions soon found
themselves near a grove of sycamores and eucalyptus massed
in picturesque confusion at the base of a little hill.
Here they halted.
"Ah! the vagabonds! the rascals! the thieves!" suddenly exclaimed Ben Zoof,
stamping his foot with rage.
"How now? Are your friends the birds at their pranks again?"
asked the captain.
"No, I don't mean the birds: I mean those lazy beggars
that are shirking their work. Look here; look there!"
And as Ben Zoof spoke, he pointed to some scythes, and sickles,
and other implements of husbandry that had been left upon the ground.
"What is it you mean?" asked Servadac, getting somewhat impatient.
"Hush, hush! listen!" was all Ben Zoof's reply; and he raised
his finger as if in warning.
Listening attentively, Servadac and his associates could distinctly
recognize a human voice, accompanied by the notes of a guitar
and by the measured click of castanets.
"Spaniards!" said Servadac.
"No mistake about that, sir," replied Ben Zoof; "a Spaniard would
rattle his castanets at the cannon's mouth."
"But what is the meaning of it all?" asked the captain,
more puzzled than before.
"Hark!" said Ben Zoof; "it is the old man's turn."
And then a voice, at once gruff and harsh, was heard vociferating,
"My money! my money! when will you pay me my money?
Pay me what you owe me, you miserable majos."
Meanwhile the song continued:
_"Tu sandunga y cigarro,
Y una cana de Jerez,
Mi jamelgo y un trabuco,
Que mas gloria puede haver?"_
Servadac's knowledge of Gascon enabled him partially to comprehend
the rollicking tenor of the Spanish patriotic air, but his attention
was again arrested by the voice of the old man growling savagely,
"Pay me you shall; yes, by the God of Abraham, you shall pay me."
"A Jew!" exclaimed Servadac.
"Ay, sir, a German Jew," said Ben Zoof.
The party was on the point of entering the thicket, when a singular
spectacle made them pause. A group of Spaniards had just begun
dancing their national fandango, and the extraordinary lightness
which had become the physical property of every object in
the new planet made the dancers bound to a height of thirty feet
or more into the air, considerably above the tops of the trees.
What followed was irresistibly comic. Four sturdy majos had
dragged along with them an old man incapable of resistance,
and compelled him, _nolens volens_, to join in the dance;
and as they all kept appearing and disappearing above the bank
of foliage, their grotesque attitudes, combined with the pitiable
countenance of their helpless victim, could not do otherwise
than recall most forcibly the story of Sancho Panza tossed
in a blanket by the merry drapers of Segovia.
Servadac, the count, Procope, and Ben Zoof now proceeded to make their
way through the thicket until they came to a little glade, where two
men were stretched idly on the grass, one of them playing the guitar,
and the other a pair of castanets; both were exploding with laughter, as they
urged the performers to greater and yet greater exertions in the dance.
At the sight of strangers they paused in their music, and simultaneously
the dancers, with their victim, alighted gently on the sward.
Breathless and half exhausted as was the Jew, he rushed
with an effort towards Servadac, and exclaimed in French,
marked by a strong Teutonic accent, "Oh, my lord governor,
help me, help! These rascals defraud me of my rights;
they rob me; but, in the name of the God of Israel, I ask you
to see justice done!"
The captain glanced inquiringly towards Ben Zoof, and the orderly,
by a significant nod, made his master understand that he was
to play the part that was implied by the title. He took the cue,
and promptly ordered the Jew to hold his tongue at once.
The man bowed his head in servile submission, and folded his hands
upon his breast.
Servadac surveyed him leisurely. He was a man of about fifty, but from
his appearance might well have been taken for at least ten years older.
Small and skinny, with eyes bright and cunning, a hooked nose,
a short yellow beard, unkempt hair, huge feet, and long bony hands,
he presented all the typical characteristics of the German Jew,
the heartless, wily usurer, the hardened miser and skinflint.
As iron is attracted by the magnet, so was this Shylock attracted
by the sight of gold, nor would he have hesitated to draw the life-blood
of his creditors, if by such means he could secure his claims.
His name was Isaac Hakkabut, and he was a native of Cologne. Nearly the whole
of his time, however, he informed Captain Servadac, had been spent upon
the sea, his real business being that of a merchant trading at all the ports
of the Mediterranean. A tartan, a small vessel of two hundred tons burden,
conveyed his entire stock of merchandise, and, to say the truth,
was a sort of floating emporium, conveying nearly every possible article
of commerce, from a lucifer match to the radiant fabrics of Frank-fort
and Epinal. Without wife or children, and having no settled home,
Isaac Hakkabut lived almost entirely on board the _Hansa_, as he had
named his tartan; and engaging a mate, with a crew of three men,
as being adequate to work so light a craft, he cruised along the coasts
of Algeria, Tunis, Egypt, Turkey, and Greece, visiting, moreover, most of the
harbors of the Levant. Careful to be always well supplied with the products
in most general demand--coffee, sugar, rice, tobacco, cotton stuffs,
and gunpowder--and being at all times ready to barter, and prepared to deal
in sec-ondhand wares, he had contrived to amass considerable wealth.
On the eventful night of the 1st of January the _Hansa_ had been at Ceuta,
the point on the coast of Morocco exactly opposite Gibraltar. The mate
and three sailors had all gone on shore, and, in common with many of their
fellow-creatures, had entirely disappeared; but the most projecting rock
of Ceuta had been undisturbed by the general catastrophe, and half a score
of Spaniards, who had happened to be upon it, had escaped with their lives.
They were all Andalusian majos, agricultural laborers, and naturally
as careless and apathetic as men of their class usually are, but they
could not help being very considerably embarrassed when they discovered
that they were left in solitude upon a detached and isolated rock.
They took what mutual counsel they could, but became only more and
more perplexed. One of them was named Negrete, and he, as having traveled
somewhat more than the rest, was tacitly recognized as a sort of leader;
but although he was by far the most enlightened of them all, he was quite
incapable of forming the least conception of the nature of what had occurred.
The one thing upon which they could not fail to be conscious was that they
had no prospect of obtaining provisions, and consequently their first
business was to devise a scheme for getting away from their present abode.
The _Hansa_ was lying off shore. The Spaniards would not have had
the slightest hesitation in summarily taking possession of her, but their
utter ignorance of seamanship made them reluctantly come to the conclusion
that the more prudent policy was to make terms with the owner.
And now came a singular part of the story. Negrete and his
companions had meanwhile received a visit from two English officers
from Gibraltar. What passed between them the Jew did not know;
he only knew that, immediately after the conclusion of the interview,
Negrete came to him and ordered him to set sail at once
for the nearest point of Morocco. The Jew, afraid to disobey,
but with his eye ever upon the main chance, stipulated that at
the end of their voyage the Spaniards should pay for their passage--
terms to which, as they would to any other, they did not demur,
knowing that they had not the slightest intention of giving him
a single real.
The _Hansa_ had weighed anchor on the 3rd of February. The wind blew
from the west, and consequently the working of the tartan was easy enough.
The unpracticed sailors had only to hoist their sails and, though they
were quite unconscious of the fact, the breeze carried them to the only spot
upon the little world they occupied which could afford them a refuge.
Thus it fell out that one morning Ben Zoof, from his lookout on Gourbi Island,
saw a ship, not the _Dobryna_, appear upon the horizon, and make quietly
down towards what had formerly been the right bank of the Shelif.
Such was Ben Zoof's version of what had occurred, as he had gathered
it from the new-comers. He wound up his recital by remarking
that the cargo of the _Hansa_ would be of immense service to them;
he expected, indeed, that Isaac Hakkabut would be difficult to manage,
but considered there could be no harm in appropriating the goods
for the common welfare, since there could be no opportunity now
for selling them.
Ben Zoof added, "And as to the difficulties between the Jew
and his passengers, I told him that the governor general
was absent on a tour of inspection, and that he would see
everything equitably settled."
Smiling at his orderly's tactics, Servadac turned to Hakkabut,
and told him that he would take care that his claims should
be duly investigated and all proper demands should be paid.
The man appeared satisfied, and, for the time at least,
desisted from his complaints and importunities.
When the Jew had retired, Count Timascheff asked, "But how in the world
can you ever make those fellows pay anything?"
"They have lots of money," said Ben Zoof.
"Not likely," replied the count; "when did you ever know Spaniards
like them to have lots of money?"
"But I have seen it myself," said Ben Zoof; "and it is English money."
"English money!" echoed Servadac; and his mind again
reverted to the excursion made by the colonel and the major
from Gibraltar, about which they had been so reticent.
"We must inquire more about this," he said.
Then, addressing Count Timascheff, he added, "Altogether, I
think the countries of Europe are fairly represented by the
population of Gallia."
"True, captain," answered the count; "we have only a fragment
of a world, but it contains natives of France, Russia, Italy, Spain,
and England. Even Germany may be said to have a representative
in the person of this miserable Jew."
"And even in him," said Servadac, "perhaps we shall not find so indifferent
a representative as we at present imagine."
GALLIA'S GOVERNOR GENERAL
The Spaniards who had arrived on board the _Hansa_ consisted of nine
men and a lad of twelve years of age, named Pablo. They all received
Captain Servadac, whom Ben Zoof introduced as the governor general,
with due respect, and returned quickly to their separate tasks.
The captain and his friends, followed at some distance by the eager Jew,
soon left the glade and directed their steps towards the coast
where the _Hansa_ was moored.
As they went they discussed their situation. As far as they
had ascertained, except Gourbi Island, the sole surviving
fragments of the Old World were four small islands:
the bit of Gibraltar occupied by the Englishmen; Ceuta, which had
just been left by the Spaniards; Madalena, where they had
picked up the little Italian girl; and the site of the tomb
of Saint Louis on the coast of Tunis. Around these there was
stretched out the full extent of the Gallian Sea, which apparently
comprised about one-half of the Mediterranean, the whole being
encompassed by a barrier like a framework of precipitous cliffs,
of an origin and a substance alike unknown.
Of all these spots only two were known to be inhabited: Gibraltar, where the
thirteen Englishmen were amply provisioned for some years to come,
and their own Gourbi Island. Here there was a population of twenty-two,
who would all have to subsist upon the natural products of the soil.
It was indeed not to be forgotten that, perchance, upon some remote
and undiscovered isle there might be the solitary writer of the mysterious
papers which they had found, and if so, that would raise the census
of their new asteroid to an aggregate of thirty-six.
Even upon the supposition that at some future date the whole
population should be compelled to unite and find a residence
upon Gourbi Island, there did not appear any reason
to question but that eight hundred acres of rich soil,
under good management, would yield them all an ample sustenance.
The only critical matter was how long the cold season would last;
every hope depended upon the land again becoming productive;
at present, it seemed impossible to determine, even if Gallia's
orbit were really elliptic, when she would reach her aphelion,
and it was consequently necessary that the Gallians for
the time being should reckon on nothing beyond their actual
and present resources.
These resources were, first, the provisions of the _Dobryna_,
consisting of preserved meat, sugar, wine, brandy, and other
stores sufficient for about two months; secondly, the valuable
cargo of the _Hansa_, which, sooner or later, the owner,
whether he would or not, must be compelled to surrender
for the common benefit; and lastly, the produce of the island,
animal and vegetable, which with proper economy might be made
to last for a considerable period.
In the course of the conversation, Count Timascheff took
an opportunity of saying that, as Captain Servadac had already
been presented to the Spaniards as governor of the island,
he thought it advisable that he should really assume that position.
"Every body of men," he observed, "must have a head, and you,
as a Frenchman, should, I think, take the command of this
fragment of a French colony. My men, I can answer for it,
are quite prepared to recognize you as their superior officer."
"Most unhesitatingly," replied Servadac, "I accept the post with
all its responsibilities. We understand each other so well that I
feel sure we shall try and work together for the common good;
and even if it be our fate never again to behold our fellow creatures,
I have no misgivings but that we shall be able to cope with whatever
difficulties may be before us."
As he spoke, he held out his hand. The count took it, at the same
time making a slight bow. It was the first time since their meeting
that the two men had shaken hands; on the other hand, not a single
word about their former rivalry had ever escaped their lips;
perhaps that was all forgotten now.
The silence of a few moments was broken by Servadac saying, "Do you
not think we ought to explain our situation to the Spaniards?"
"No, no, your Excellency," burst in Ben Zoof, emphatically; "the fellows
are chicken-hearted enough already; only tell them what has happened,
and in sheer despondency they will not do another stroke of work."
"Besides," said Lieutenant Procope, who took very much the same view
as the orderly, "they are so miserably ignorant they would be sure
to misunderstand you."
"Understand or misunderstand," replied Servadac, "I do not think
it matters. They would not care. They are all fatalists.
Only give them a guitar and their castanets, and they will soon
forget all care and anxiety. For my own part, I must adhere
to my belief that it will be advisable to tell them everything.
Have you any opinion to offer, count?"
"My own opinion, captain, coincides entirely with yours.
I have followed the plan of explaining all I could to my men on board
the _Dobryna_, and no inconvenience has arisen."
"Well, then, so let it be," said the captain; adding, "It is
not likely that these Spaniards are so ignorant as not to have
noticed the change in the length of the days; neither can they
be unaware of the physical changes that have transpired.
They shall certainly be told that we are being carried away
into unknown regions of space, and that this island is nearly
all that remains of the Old World."
"Ha! ha!" laughed Ben Zoof, aloud; "it will be fine sport to watch
the old Jew's face, when he is made to comprehend that he is flying
away millions and millions of leagues from all his debtors."
Isaac Hakkabut was about fifty yards behind, and was consequently
unable to overhear the conversation. He went shambling along,
half whimpering and not unfrequently invoking the God of Israel;
but every now and then a cunning light gleamed from his eyes,
and his lips became compressed with a grim significance.
None of the recent phenomena had escaped his notice, and more than
once he had attempted to entice Ben Zoof into conversation upon
the subject; but the orderly made no secret of his antipathy to him,
and generally replied to his advances either by satire or by banter.
He told him that he had everything to gain under the new system
of nights and days, for, instead of living the Jew's ordinary
life of a century, he would reach to the age of two centuries;
and he congratulated him upon the circumstance of things having become
so light, because it would prevent him feeling the burden of his years.
At another time he would declare that, to an old usurer like him,
it could not matter in the least what had become of the moon,
as he could not possibly have advanced any money upon her.
And when Isaac, undaunted by his jeers, persevered in besetting him
with questions, he tried to silence him by saying, "Only wait till
the governor general comes; he is a shrewd fellow, and will tell
you all about it."
"But will he protect my property?" poor Isaac would ask tremulously.
"To be sure he will! He would confiscate it all rather than that you
should be robbed of it."
With this Job's comfort the Jew had been obliged to content himself as best
he could, and to await the promised arrival of the governor.
When Servadac and his companions reached the shore,
they found that the _Hansa_ had anchored in an exposed bay,
protected but barely by a few projecting rocks, and in such
a position that a gale rising from the west would inevitably
drive her on to the land, where she must be dashed in pieces.
It would be the height of folly to leave her in her present moorings;
without loss of time she must be brought round to the mouth
of the Shelif, in immediate proximity to the Russian yacht.
The consciousness that his tartan was the subject of discussion made
the Jew give way to such vehement ejaculations of anxiety, that Servadac
turned round and peremptorily ordered him to desist from his clamor.
Leaving the old man under the surveillance of the count and Ben Zoof,
the captain and the lieutenant stepped into a small boat and were soon
alongside the floating emporium.
A very short inspection sufficed to make them aware that both
the tartan and her cargo were in a perfect state of preservation.
In the hold were sugar-loaves by hundreds, chests of tea,
bags of coffee, hogsheads of tobacco, pipes of wine, casks of brandy,
barrels of dried herrings, bales of cotton, clothing of every kind,
shoes of all sizes, caps of various shape, tools, household utensils,
china and earthenware, reams of paper, bottles of ink, boxes of lucifer
matches, blocks of salt, bags of pepper and spices, a stock of huge
Dutch cheeses, and a collection of almanacs and miscellaneous literature.
At a rough guess the value could not be much under pounds 5,000 sterling.
A new cargo had been taken in only a few days before the catastrophe,
and it had been Isaac Hakkabut's intention to cruise from Ceuta to Tripoli,
calling wherever he had reason to believe there was likely to be a market
for any of his commodities.
"A fine haul, lieutenant," said the captain.
"Yes, indeed," said the lieutenant; "but what if the owner refuses
to part with it?"
"No fear; no fear," replied the captain. "As soon as ever the old rascal
finds that there are no more Arabs or Algerians for him to fleece,
he will be ready enough to transact a little business with us.
We will pay him by bills of acceptance on some of his old friends
in the Old World."
"But why should he want any payment?" inquired the lieutenant.
"Under the circumstances, he must know that you have a right to make
a requisition of his goods."
"No, no," quickly rejoined Servadac; "we will not do that.
Just because the fellow is a German we shall not be justified in treating
him in German fashion. We will transact our business in a business way.
Only let him once realize that he is on a new globe, with no prospect
of getting back to the old one, and he will be ready enough to come
to terms with us."
"Perhaps you are right," replied the lieutenant; "I hope you are.
But anyhow, it will not do to leave the tartan here; not only
would she be in danger in the event of a storm, but it is very
questionable whether she could resist the pressure of the ice,
if the water were to freeze."
"Quite true, Procope; and accordingly I give you the commission to see
that your crew bring her round to the Shelif as soon as may be."
"To-morrow morning it shall be done," answered the lieutenant, promptly.
Upon returning to the shore, it was arranged that the whole
of the little colony should forthwith assemble at the gourbi.
The Spaniards were summoned and Isaac, although he could
only with reluctance take his wistful gaze from his tartan,
obeyed the governor's orders to follow.
An hour later and the entire population of twenty-two had met
in the chamber adjoining the gourbi. Young Pablo made his
first acquaintance with little Nina, and the child seemed
highly delighted to find a companion so nearly of her own age.
Leaving the children to entertain each other, Captain Servadac
began his address.
Before entering upon further explanation, he said that he counted
upon the cordial co-operation of them all for the common welfare.
Negrete interrupted him by declaring that no promises or pledges could
be given until he and his countrymen knew how soon they could be sent
back to Spain.
"To Spain, do you say?" asked Servadac.
"To Spain!" echoed Isaac Hakkabut, with a hideous yell.
"Do they expect to go back to Spain till they have paid their debts?
Your Excellency, they owe me twenty reals apiece for their passage here;
they owe me two hundred reals. Are they to be allowed . . . ?"
"Silence, Mordecai, you fool!" shouted Ben Zoof, who was accustomed to call
the Jew by any Hebrew name that came uppermost to his memory. "Silence!"
Servadac was disposed to appease the old man's anxiety by promising to see
that justice was ultimately done; but, in a fever of frantic excitement,
he went on to implore that he might have the loan of a few sailors to carry
his ship to Algiers.
"I will pay you honestly; I will pay you _well_," he cried;
but his ingrained propensity for making a good bargain prompted
him to add, "provided you do not overcharge me."
Ben Zoof was about again to interpose some angry exclamation;
but Servadac checked him, and continued in Spanish: "Listen to me,
my friends. Something very strange has happened. A most wonderful
event has cut us off from Spain, from France, from Italy, from every
country of Europe. In fact, we have left the Old World entirely.
Of the whole earth, nothing remains except this island on which
you are now taking refuge. The old globe is far, far away.
Our present abode is but an insignificant fragment that is left.
I dare not tell you that there is any chance of your ever again
seeing your country or your homes."
He paused. The Spaniards evidently had no conception of his meaning.
Negrete begged him to tell them all again. He repeated
all that he had said, and by introducing some illustrations
from familiar things, he succeeded to a certain extent in
conveying some faint idea of the convulsion that had happened.
The event was precisely what he had foretold. The communication
was received by all alike with the most supreme indifference.
Hakkabut did not say a word. He had listened with manifest attention,
his lips twitching now and then as if suppressing a smile.
Servadac turned to him, and asked whether he was still disposed
to put out to sea and make for Algiers.
The Jew gave a broad grin, which, however, he was careful to conceal
from the Spaniards. "Your Excellency jests," he said in French;
and turning to Count Timascheff, he added in Russian:
"The governor has made up a wonderful tale."
The count turned his back in disgust, while the Jew sidled up
to little Nina and muttered in Italian. "A lot of lies, pretty one;
a lot of lies!"
"Confound the knave!" exclaimed Ben Zoof; "he gabbles every tongue
under the sun!"
"Yes," said Servadac; "but whether he speaks French, Russian, Spanish, German,
or Italian, he is neither more nor less than a Jew."
A LIGHT ON THE HORIZON
On the following day, without giving himself any further concern about
the Jew's incredulity, the captain gave orders for the _Hansa_ to be
shifted round to the harbor of the Shelif. Hakkabut raised no objection,
not only because he was aware that the move insured the immediate
safety of his tartan, but because he was secretly entertaining the hope
that he might entice away two or three of the _Dobryna's_ crew and make
his escape to Algiers or some other port.
Operations now commenced for preparing proper winter quarters.
Spaniards and Russians alike joined heartily in the work,
the diminution of atmospheric pressure and of the force
of attraction contributing such an increase to their muscular
force as materially facilitated all their labors.
The first business was to accommodate the building adjacent to
the gourbi to the wants of the little colony. Here for the present
the Spaniards were lodged, the Russians retaining their berths upon
the yacht, while the Jew was permitted to pass his nights upon
the _Hansa_. This arrangement, however, could be only temporary.
The time could not be far distant when ships' sides and ordinary
walls would fail to give an adequate protection from the severity
of the cold that must be expected; the stock of fuel was too limited
to keep up a permanent supply of heat in their present quarters,
and consequently they must be driven to seek some other refuge,
the internal temperature of which would at least be bearable.
The plan that seemed to commend itself most to their consideration was,
that they should dig out for themselves some subterraneous pits similar
to "silos," such as are used as receptacles for grain. They presumed
that when the surface of Gallia should be covered by a thick layer of ice,
which is a bad conductor of heat, a sufficient amount of warmth for
animal vitality might still be retained in excavations of this kind.
After a long consultation they failed to devise any better expedient,
and were forced to resign themselves to this species of troglodyte existence.
In one respect they congratulated themselves that they should be better
off than many of the whalers in the polar seas, for as it is impossible
to get below the surface of a frozen ocean, these adventurers have
to seek refuge in huts of wood and snow erected on their ships,
which at best can give but slight protection from extreme cold;
but here, with a solid subsoil, the Gallians might hope to dig down
a hundred feet or so and secure for themselves a shelter that would
enable them to brave the hardest severity of climate.
The order, then, was at once given. The work was commenced.
A stock of shovels, mattocks, and pick-axes was brought from
the gourbi, and with Ben Zoof as overseer, both Spanish majos
and Russian sailors set to work with a will.
It was not long, however, before a discovery, more unexpected than agreeable,
suddenly arrested their labors. The spot chosen for the excavation was
a little to the right of the gourbi, on a slight elevation of the soil.
For the first day everything went on prosperously enough; but at a depth of
eight feet below the surface, the navvies came in contact with a hard surface,
upon which all their tools failed to make the slightest impression.
Servadac and the count were at once apprised of the fact, and had little
difficulty in recognizing the substance that had revealed itself as the very
same which composed the shores as well as the subsoil of the Gallian sea.
It evidently formed the universal substructure of the new asteroid.
Means for hollowing it failed them utterly. Harder and more resisting
than granite, it could not be blasted by ordinary powder; dynamite alone
could suffice to rend it.
The disappointment was very great. Unless some means of protection
were speedily devised, death seemed to be staring them in the face.
Were the figures in the mysterious documents correct? If so, Gallia must
now be a hundred millions of leagues from the sun, nearly three times
the distance of the earth at the remotest section of her orbit.
The intensity of the solar light and heat, too, was very seriously
diminishing, although Gourbi Island (being on the equator of an orb
which had its axes always perpendicular to the plane in which it revolved)
enjoyed a position that gave it a permanent summer. But no advantage
of this kind could compensate for the remoteness of the sun.
The temperature fell steadily; already, to the discomfiture of the
little Italian girl, nurtured in sunshine, ice was beginning to form
in the crevices of the rocks, and manifestly the time was impending
when the sea itself would freeze.
Some shelter must be found before the temperature should fall to 60 degrees
below zero. Otherwise death was inevitable. Hitherto, for the last few days,
the thermometer had been registering an average of about 6 degrees
below zero, and it had become matter of experience that the stove,
although replenished with all the wood that was available, was altogether
inadequate to effect any sensible mitigation of the severity of the cold.
Nor could any amount of fuel be enough. It was certain that ere long
the very mercury and spirit in the thermometers would be congealed.
Some other resort must assuredly be soon found, or they must perish.
That was clear.
The idea of betaking themselves to the _Dobryna_ and _Hansa_ could
not for a moment be seriously entertained; not only did the structure
of the vessels make them utterly insufficient to give substantial shelter,
but they were totally unfitted to be trusted as to their stability
when exposed to the enormous pressure of the accumulated ice.
Neither Servadac, nor the count, nor Lieutenant Procope were men to be
easily disheartened, but it could not be concealed that they felt themselves
in circumstances by which they were equally harassed and perplexed.
The sole expedient that their united counsel could suggest was to obtain
a refuge below ground, and _that_ was denied them by the strange and
impenetrable substratum of the soil; yet hour by hour the sun's disc was
lessening in its dimensions, and although at midday some faint radiance
and glow were to be distinguished, during the night the painfulness
of the cold was becoming almost intolerable.
Mounted upon Zephyr and Galette, the captain and the count
scoured the island in search of some available retreat.
Scarcely a yard of ground was left unexplored, the horses clearing
every obstacle as if they were, like Pegasus, furnished with wings.
But all in vain. Soundings were made again and again,
but invariably with the same result; the rock, hard as adamant,
never failed to reveal itself within a few feet of the surface
of the ground.
The excavation of any silo being thus manifestly hopeless,
there seemed nothing to be done except to try and render
the buildings alongside the gourbi impervious to frost.
To contribute to the supply of fuel, orders were given to collect
every scrap of wood, dry or green, that the island produced;
and this involved the necessity of felling the numerous trees
that were scattered over the plain. But toil as they might
at the accumulation of firewood, Captain Servadac and his
companions could not resist the conviction that the consumption
of a very short period would exhaust the total stock.
And what would happen then?
Studious if possible to conceal his real misgivings, and anxious that
the rest of the party should be affected as little as might be by his
own uneasiness, Servadac would wander alone about the island, racking his
brain for an idea that would point the way out of the serious difficulty.
But still all in vain.
One day he suddenly came upon Ben Zoof, and asked him whether he had no
plan to propose. The orderly shook his head, but after a few moments'
pondering, said: "Ah! master, if only we were at Montmartre, we would
get shelter in the charming stone-quarries."
"Idiot!" replied the captain, angrily, "if we were at Montmartre,
you don't suppose that we should need to live in stone-quarries?"
But the means of preservation which human ingenuity had failed to
secure were at hand from the felicitous provision of Nature herself.
It was on the 10th of March that the captain and Lieutenant Procope
started off once more to investigate the northwest corner of the island;
on their way their conversation naturally was engrossed by the subject
of the dire necessities which only too manifestly were awaiting them.
A discussion more than usually animated arose between them, for the two
men were not altogether of the same mind as to the measures that ought
to be adopted in order to open the fairest chance of avoiding a fatal
climax to their exposure; the captain persisted that an entirely new abode
must be sought, while the lieutenant was equally bent upon devising
a method of some sort by which their present quarters might be rendered
sufficiently warm. All at once, in the very heat of his argument,
Procope paused; he passed his hand across his eyes, as if to dispel a mist,
and stood, with a fixed gaze centered on a point towards the south.
"What is that?" he said, with a kind of hesitation. "No, I am not mistaken,"
he added; "it is a light on the horizon."
"A light!" exclaimed Servadac; "show me where."
"Look there!" answered the lieutenant, and he kept pointing steadily
in its direction, until Servadac also distinctly saw the bright speck
in the distance.
It increased in clearness in the gathering shades of evening.
"Can it be a ship?" asked the captain.
"If so, it must be in flames; otherwise we should not be able
to see it so far off," replied Procope.
"It does not move," said Servadac; "and unless I am greatly deceived,
I can hear a kind of reverberation in the air."
For some seconds the two men stood straining eyes and ears
in rapt attention. Suddenly an idea struck Servadac's mind.
"The volcano!" he cried; "may it not be the volcano that we saw,
whilst we were on board the _Dobryna?_"
The lieutenant agreed that it was very probable.
"Heaven be praised!" ejaculated the captain, and he went
on in the tones of a keen excitement: "Nature has provided
us with our winter quarters; the stream of burning lava
that is flowing there is the gift of a bounteous Providence;
it will provide us all the warmth we need. No time to lose!
To-morrow, my dear Procope, to-morrow we will explore it all;
no doubt the life, the heat we want is reserved for us in the heart
and bowels of our own Gallia!"
Whilst the captain was indulging in his expressions of enthusiasm,
Procope was endeavoring to collect his thoughts. Distinctly he remembered
the long promontory which had barred the _Dobryna's_ progress while coasting
the southern confines of the sea, and which had obliged her to ascend
northwards as far as the former latitude of Oran; he remembered also that at
the extremity of the promontory there was a rocky headland crowned with smoke;
and now he was convinced that he was right in identifying the position,
and in believing that the smoke had given place to an eruption of flame.
When Servadac gave him a chance of speaking, he said, "The more I consider
it, captain, the more I am satisfied that your conjecture is correct.
Beyond a doubt, what we see is the volcano, and to-morrow we will not fail
to visit it."
On returning to the gourbi, they communicated their discovery to
Count Timascheff only, deeming any further publication of it to be premature.
The count at once placed his yacht at their disposal, and expressed
his intention of accompanying them.
"The yacht, I think," said Procope, "had better remain where she is;
the weather is beautifully calm, and the steam-launch will answer
our purpose better; at any rate, it will convey us much closer
to shore than the schooner."
The count replied that the lieutenant was by all means to use
his own discretion, and they all retired for the night.
Like many other modern pleasure-yachts, the _Dobryna_, in addition
to her four-oar, was fitted with a fast-going little steam-launch,
its screw being propelled, on the Oriolle system, by means of a boiler,
small but very effective. Early next morning, this handy little craft
was sufficiently freighted with coal (of which there was still about ten
tons on board the _Dobryna_), and manned by nobody except the captain,
the count, and the lieutenant, left the harbor of the Shelif, much to the
bewilderment of Ben Zoof, who had not yet been admitted into the secret.
The orderly, however, consoled himself with the reflection that he had
been temporarily invested with the full powers of governor general,
an office of which he was not a little proud.
The eighteen miles between the island and the headland
were made in something less than three hours.
The volcanic eruption was manifestly very considerable,
the entire summit of the promontory being enveloped in flames.
To produce so large a combustion either the oxygen of Gallia's
atmosphere had been brought into contact with the explosive gases
contained beneath her soil, or perhaps, still more probable,
the volcano, like those in the moon, was fed by an internal
supply of oxygen of her own.
It took more than half an hour to settle on a suitable landing-place.
At length, a small semi-circular creek was discovered among the rocks,
which appeared advantageous, because, if circumstances should so require,
it would form a safe anchorage for both the _Dobryna_ and the _Hansa_.
The launch securely moored, the passengers landed on the side of
the promontory opposite to that on which a torrent of burning lava
was descending to the sea. With much satisfaction they experienced,
as they approached the mountain, a sensible difference in the temperature,
and their spirits could not do otherwise than rise at the prospect of having
their hopes confirmed, that a deliverance from the threatened calamity
had so opportunely been found. On they went, up the steep acclivity,
scrambling over its rugged projections, scaling the irregularities of its
gigantic strata, bounding from point to point with the agility of chamois,
but never alighting on anything except on the accumulation of the same
hexagonal prisms with which they had now become so familiar.
Their exertions were happily rewarded. Behind a huge pyramidal rock they
found a hole in the mountain-side, like the mouth of a great tunnel.
Climbing up to this orifice, which was more than sixty feet above the level
of the sea, they ascertained that it opened into a long dark gallery.
They entered and groped their way cautiously along the sides.
A continuous rumbling, that increased as they advanced, made them
aware that they must be approaching the central funnel of the volcano;
their only fear was lest some insuperable wall of rock should suddenly
bar their further progress.
Servadac was some distance ahead.
"Come on!" he cried cheerily, his voice ringing through the darkness,
"come on! Our fire is lighted! no stint of fuel! Nature provides that!
Let us make haste and warm ourselves!"
Inspired by his confidence, the count and the lieutenant
advanced bravely along the unseen and winding path.
The temperature was now at least fifteen degrees above zero,
and the walls of the gallery were beginning to feel quite
warm to the touch, an indication, not to be overlooked,
that the substance of which the rock was composed was metallic
in its nature, and capable of conducting heat.
"Follow me!" shouted Servadac again; "we shall soon find a regular stove!"
Onwards they made their way, until at last a sharp turn brought them
into a sudden flood of light. The tunnel had opened into a vast cavern,
and the gloom was exchanged for an illumination that was perfectly dazzling.
Although the temperature was high, it was not in any way intolerable.
One glance was sufficient to satisfy the explorers that
the grateful light and heat of this huge excavation were to be
attributed to a torrent of lava that was rolling downwards
to the sea, completely subtending the aperture of the cave.
Not inaptly might the scene be compared to the celebrated
Grotto of the Winds at the rear of the central fall of Niagara,
only with the exception that here, instead of a curtain
of rushing water, it was a curtain of roaring flame that hung
before the cavern's mouth.
"Heaven be praised!" cried Servadac, with glad emotion; "here is
all that we hoped for, and more besides!"
The habitation that had now revealed itself, well lighted and thoroughly warm,
was indeed marvelous. Not only would it afford ample accommodation for
Hector Servadac and "his subjects," as Ben Zoof delighted to call them,
but it would provide shelter for the two horses, and for a considerable
number of domestic animals.
This enormous cavern was neither more or less than the common junction
of nearly twenty tunnels (similar to that which had been traversed by
the explorers), forming ramifications in the solid rock, and the pores,
as it were, by which the internal heat exuded from the heart of the mountain.
Here, as long as the volcano retained its activity, every living
creature on the new asteroid might brave the most rigorous of climates;
and as Count Timascheff justly remarked, since it was the only burning
mountain they had sighted, it was most probably the sole outlet for Gallia's
subterranean fires, and consequently the eruption might continue unchanged
for ages to come.
But not a day, not an hour, was to be lost now.
The steam-launch returned to Gourbi Island, and preparations
were forthwith taken in hand for conveying man and beast,
corn and fodder, across to the volcanic headland.
Loud and hearty were the acclamations of the little colony,
especially of the Spaniards, and great was the relief of Nina,
when Servadac announced to them the discovery of their future domicile;
and with requickened energies they labored hard at packing,
anxious to reach their genial winter quarters without delay.
For three successive days the _Dobryna_, laden to her very gunwale,
made a transit to and fro. Ben Zoof was left upon the island
to superintend the stowage of the freight, whilst Servadac found
abundant occupation in overlooking its disposal within the recesses
of the mountain. First of all, the large store of corn and fodder,
the produce of the recent harvest, was landed and deposited in one
of the vaults; then, on the 15th, about fifty head of live cattle--
bullocks, cows, sheep, and pigs--were conveyed to their rocky stalls.
These were saved for the sake of preserving the several breeds,
the bulk of the island cattle being slaughtered, as the extreme
severity of the climate insured all meat remaining fresh for almost
an indefinite period. The winter which they were expecting would
probably be of unprecedented length; it was quite likely that it
would exceed the six months' duration by which many arctic explorers
have been tried; but the population of Gallia had no anxiety in
the matter of provisions--their stock was far more than adequate;
while as for drink, as long as they were satisfied with pure water,
a frozen sea would afford them an inexhaustible reservoir.
The need for haste in forwarding their preparations became more
and more manifest; the sea threatened to be un-navigable very soon,
as ice was already forming which the noonday sun was unable to melt.
And if haste were necessary, so also were care, ingenuity, and forethought.
It was indispensable that the space at their command should be
properly utilized, and yet that the several portions of the store
should all be readily accessible.
On further investigation an unexpected number of galleries
was discovered, so that, in fact, the interior of the mountain
was like a vast bee-hive perforated with innumerable cells;
and in compliment to the little Italian it was unanimously voted
by the colony that their new home should be called "Nina's Hive."
The first care of Captain Servadac was to ascertain how he could
make the best possible use of the heat which nature had
provided for them so opportunely and with so lavish a hand.
By opening fresh vents in the solid rock (which by the action
of the heat was here capable of fissure) the stream
of burning lava was diverted into several new channels,
where it could be available for daily use; and thus Mochel,
the _Dobryna's_ cook, was furnished with an admirable kitchen,
provided with a permanent stove, where he was duly installed
with all his culinary apparatus.
"What a saving of expense it would be," exclaimed Ben Zoof, "if every
household could be furnished with its own private volcano!"
The large cavern at the general junction of the galleries was fitted up
as a drawing-room, and arranged with all the best furniture both of the gourbi
and of the cabin of the _Dobryna_. Hither was also brought the schooner's
library, containing a good variety of French and Russian books; lamps were
suspended over the different tables; and the walls of the apartment were
tapestried with the sails and adorned with the flags belonging to the yacht.
The curtain of fire extending over the opening of the cavern provided it,
as already stated, with light and heat.
The torrent of lava fell into a small rock-bound basin that had no apparent
communication with the sea, and was evidently the aperture of a deep abyss,
of which the waters, heated by the descent of the eruptive matter,
would no doubt retain their liquid condition long after the Gallian Sea
had become a sheet of ice.
A small excavation to the left of the common hall was allotted
for the special use of Servadac and the count; another on
the right was appropriated to the lieutenant and Ben Zoof;
whilst a third recess, immediately at the back, made a convenient
little chamber for Nina. The Spaniards and the Russian sailors
took up their sleeping-quarters in the adjacent galleries,
and found the temperature quite comfortable.
Such were the internal arrangements of Nina's Hive, the refuge
where the little colony were full of hope that they would be able
to brave the rigors of the stern winter-time that lay before them--
a winter-time during which Gallia might possibly be projected even
to the orbit of Jupiter, where the temperature would not exceed
one twenty-fifth of the normal winter temperature of the earth.
The only discontented spirit was Isaac Hakkabut. Throughout all
the preparations which roused even the Spaniards to activity, the Jew,
still incredulous and deaf to every representation of the true state
of things, insisted upon remaining in the creek at Gourbi Island;
nothing could induce him to leave his tartan, where, like a miser,
he would keep guard over his precious cargo, ever grumbling
and growling, but with his weather-eye open in the hope of catching
sight of some passing sail. It must be owned that the whole
party were far from sorry to be relieved of his presence;
his uncomely figure and repulsive countenance was a perpetual bugbear.
He had given out in plain terms that he did not intend to part
with any of his property, except for current money, and Servadac,
equally resolute, had strictly forbidden any purchases to be made,
hoping to wear out the rascal's obstinacy.
Hakkabut persistently refused to credit the real situation;
he could not absolutely deny that some portions of the terrestrial
globe had undergone a certain degree of modification, but nothing could
bring him to believe that he was not, sooner or later, to r�sum� his
old line of business in the Mediterranean. With his wonted distrust
of all with whom he came in contact, he regarded every argument
that was urged upon him only as evidence of a plot that had been
devised to deprive him of his goods. Repudiating, as he did utterly,
the hypothesis that a fragment had become detached from the earth,
he scanned the horizon for hours together with an old telescope,
the case of which had been patched up till it looked like a rusty
stove-pipe, hoping to descry the passing trader with which he might
effect some bartering upon advantageous terms.
At first he professed to regard the proposed removal into
winter-quarters as an attempt to impose upon his credulity;
but the frequent voyages made by the _Dobryna_ to the south,
and the repeated consignments of corn and cattle, soon served
to make him aware that Captain Servadac and his companions
were really contemplating a departure from Gourbi Island.
The movement set him thinking. What, he began to ask himself--
what if all that was told him was true? What if this sea was no
longer the Mediterranean? What if he should never again behold his
German fatherland? What if his marts for business were gone for ever?
A vague idea of ruin began to take possession of his mind:
he must yield to necessity; he must do the best he could.
As the result of his cogitations, he occasionally left his tartan
and made a visit to the shore. At length he endeavored to mingle
with the busy group, who were hurrying on their preparations;
but his advances were only met by jeers and scorn, and, ridiculed by
all the rest, he was fain to turn his attention to Ben Zoof,
to whom he offered a few pinches of tobacco.
"No, old Zebulon," said Ben Zoof, steadily refusing the gift,
"it is against orders to take anything from you.
Keep your cargo to yourself; eat and drink it all if you can;
we are not to touch it."
Finding the subordinates incorruptible, Isaac determined
to go to the fountain-head. He addressed himself to Servadac,
and begged him to tell him the whole truth, piteously adding
that surely it was unworthy of a French officer to deceive
a poor old man like himself.
"Tell you the truth, man!" cried Servadac. "Confound it, I have
told you the truth twenty times. Once for all, I tell you now,
you have left yourself barely time enough to make your escape
to yonder mountain."
"God and Mahomet have mercy on me!" muttered the Jew, whose creed
frequently assumed a very ambiguous character.
"I will tell you what," continued the captain--"you shall have a few
men to work the _Hansa_ across, if you like."
"But I want to go to Algiers," whimpered Hakkabut.
"How often am I to tell you that Algiers is no longer in existence?
Only say yes or no--are you coming with us into winter-quarters?"
"God of Israel! what is to become of all my property?"
"But, mind you," continued the captain, not heeding the interruption,
"if you do not choose voluntarily to come with us, I shall
have the _Hansa_, by my orders, removed to a place of safety.
I am not going to let your cursed obstinacy incur the risk
of losing your cargo altogether."
"Merciful Heaven! I shall be ruined!" moaned Isaac, in despair.
"You are going the right way to ruin yourself, and it would
serve you right to leave you to your own devices. But be off!
I have no more to say."
And, turning contemptuously on his heel, Servadac left the old
man vociferating bitterly, and with uplifted hands protesting
vehemently against the rapacity of the Gentiles.
By the 20th all preliminary arrangements were complete,
and everything ready for a final departure from the island.
The thermometer stood on an average at 8 degrees below zero,
and the water in the cistern was completely frozen.
It was determined, therefore, for the colony to embark on
the following day, and take up their residence in Nina's Hive.
A final consultation was held about the _Hansa_. Lieutenant Procope
pronounced his decided conviction that it would be impossible for the
tartan to resist the pressure of the ice in the harbor of the Shelif,
and that there would be far more safety in the proximity of the volcano.
It was agreed on all hands that the vessel must be shifted;
and accordingly orders were given, four Russian sailors were sent on board,
and only a few minutes elapsed after the _Dobryna_ had weighed anchor,
before the great lateen sail of the tartan was unfurled, and the "shop-ship,"
as Ben Zoof delighted to call it, was also on her way to the southward.
Long and loud were the lamentations of the Jew. He kept exclaiming
that he had given no orders, that he was being moved against
his will, that he had asked for no assistance, and needed none;
but it required no very keen discrimination to observe that all along
there was a lurking gleam of satisfaction in his little gray eyes,
and when, a few hours later, he found himself securely anchored,
and his property in a place of safety, he quite chuckled with glee.
"God of Israel!" he said in an undertone, "they have made no charge;
the idiots have piloted me here for nothing."
For nothing! His whole nature exulted in the consciousness that he was
enjoying a service that had been rendered gratuitously.
Destitute of human inhabitants, Gourbi Island was now left to the tenancy
of such birds and beasts as had escaped the recent promiscuous slaughter.
Birds, indeed, that had migrated in search of warmer shores, had returned,
proving that this fragment of the French colony was the only shred of land
that could yield them any sustenance; but their life must necessarily
be short. It was utterly impossible that they could survive the cold
that would soon ensue.
The colony took possession of their new abode with but few formalities.
Everyone, however, approved of all the internal arrangements of Nina's Hive,
and were profuse in their expressions of satisfaction at finding themselves
located in such comfortable quarters. The only malcontent was Hakkabut;
he had no share in the general enthusiasm, refused even to enter or inspect
any of the galleries, and insisted on remaining on board his tartan.
"He is afraid," said Ben Zoof, "that he will have to pay for his lodgings.
But wait a bit; we shall see how he stands the cold out there; the frost,
no doubt, will drive the old fox out of his hole."
Towards evening the pots were set boiling, and a bountiful supper,
to which all were invited, was spread in the central hall.
The stores of the _Dobryna_ contained some excellent wine,
some of which was broached to do honor to the occasion.
The health of the governor general was drunk, as well as the toast
"Success to his council," to which Ben Zoof was called upon
to return thanks. The entertainment passed off merrily.
The Spaniards were in the best of spirits; one of them played the guitar,
another the castanets, and the rest joined in a ringing chorus.
Ben Zoof contributed the famous Zouave refrain, well known
throughout the French army, but rarely performed in finer style
than by this _virtuoso:_
_"Misti goth dar dar tire lyre!
Flic! floc! flac! lirette, lira!
Far la rira,
Tour tala rire,
Tour la Ribaud,
Sans repos, repit, repit, repos, ris pot, ripette!
Si vous attrapez mon refrain,
Fameux vous etes."_
The concert was succeeded by a ball, unquestionably the first that had
ever taken place in Gallia. The Russian sailors exhibited some of their
national dances, which gained considerable applause, even although they
followed upon the marvelous fandangos of the Spaniards. Ben Zoof,
in his turn, danced a _pas seul_ (often performed in the Elysee Montmartre)
with an elegance and vigor that earned many compliments from Negrete.
It was nine o'clock before the festivities came to an end, and by
that time the company, heated by the high temperature of the hall,
and by their own exertions, felt the want of a little fresh air.
Accordingly the greater portion of the party, escorted by Ben Zoof,
made their way into one of the adjacent galleries that led to the shore.
Servadac, with the count and lieutenant, did not follow immediately;
but shortly afterwards they proceeded to join them, when on their way
they were startled by loud cries from those in advance.
Their first impression was that they were cries of distress,
and they were greatly relieved to find that they were shouts
of delight, which the dryness and purity of the atmosphere
caused to re-echo like a volley of musketry.
Reaching the mouth of the gallery, they found the entire group pointing
with eager interest to the sky.
"Well, Ben Zoof," asked the captain, "what's the matter now?"
"Oh, your Excellency," ejaculated the orderly, "look there! look there!
The moon! the moon's come back!"
And, sure enough, what was apparently the moon was rising above
the mists of evening.
A FROZEN OCEAN
The moon! She had disappeared for weeks; was she now returning?
Had she been faithless to the earth? and had she now approached
to be a satellite of the new-born world?
"Impossible!" said Lieutenant Procope; "the earth is millions
and millions of leagues away, and it is not probable that the moon
has ceased to revolve about her."
"Why not?" remonstrated Servadac. "It would not be more strange
than the other phenomena which we have lately witnessed.
Why should not the moon have fallen within the limits of
Gallia's attraction, and become her satellite?"
"Upon that supposition," put in the count, "I should think that it
would be altogether unlikely that three months would elapse without
our seeing her."
"Quite incredible!" continued Procope. "And there is another
thing which totally disproves the captain's hypothesis;
the magnitude of Gallia is far too insignificant for her power
of attraction to carry off the moon."
"But," persisted Servadac, "why should not the same convulsion
that tore us away from the earth have torn away the moon as well?
After wandering about as she would for a while in the solar regions,
I do not see why she should not have attached herself to us."
The lieutenant repeated his conviction that it was not likely.
"But why not?" again asked Servadac impetuously.
"Because, I tell you, the mass of Gallia is so inferior to that
of the moon, that Gallia would become the moon's satellite;
the moon could not possibly become hers."
"Assuming, however," continued Servadac, "such to be the case--"
"I am afraid," said the lieutenant, interrupting him, "that I
cannot assume anything of the sort even for a moment."
Servadac smiled good-humoredly.
"I confess you seem to have the best of the argument,
and if Gallia had become a satellite of the moon,
it would not have taken three months to catch sight of her.
I suppose you are right."
While this discussion had been going on, the satellite,
or whatever it might be, had been rising steadily above the horizon,
and had reached a position favorable for observation.
Telescopes were brought, and it was very soon ascertained,
beyond a question, that the new luminary was not the well-known Phoebe
of terrestrial nights; it had no feature in common with the moon.
Although it was apparently much nearer to Gallia than the moon
to the earth, its superficies was hardly one-tenth as large,
and so feebly did it reflect the light of the remote sun,
that it scarcely emitted radiance enough to extinguish
the dim luster of stars of the eighth magnitude.
Like the sun, it had risen in the west, and was now at its full.
To mistake its identity with the moon was absolutely impossible;
not even Servadac could discover a trace of the seas,
chasms, craters, and mountains which have been so minutely
delineated in lunar charts, and it could not be denied that any
transient hope that had been excited as to their once again
being about to enjoy the peaceful smiles of "the queen of night"
must all be resigned.
Count Timascheff finally suggested, though somewhat doubtfully,
the question of the probability that Gallia, in her course across
the zone of the minor planets, had carried off one of them;
but whether it was one of the 169 asteroids already included
in the astronomical catalogues, or one previously unknown, he did
not presume to determine. The idea to a certain extent was plausible,
inasmuch as it has been ascertained that several of the telescopic
planets are of such small dimensions that a good walker might make
a circuit of them in four and twenty hours; consequently Gallia,
being of superior volume, might be supposed capable of exercising
a power of attraction upon any of these miniature microcosms.
The first night in Nina's Hive passed without special incident;
and next morning a regular scheme of life was definitely laid down.
"My lord governor," as Ben Zoof until he was peremptorily forbidden
delighted to call Servadac, had a wholesome dread of idleness
and its consequences, and insisted upon each member of the party
undertaking some special duty to fulfill. There was plenty to do.
The domestic animals required a great deal of attention; a supply
of food had to be secured and preserved; fishing had to be carried
on while the condition of the sea would allow it; and in several
places the galleries had to be further excavated to render them
more available for use. Occupation, then, need never be wanting,
and the daily round of labor could go on in orderly routine.
A perfect concord ruled the little colony. The Russians and Spaniards
amalgamated well, and both did their best to pick up various scraps
of French, which was considered the official language of the place.
Servadac himself undertook the tuition of Pablo and Nina, Ben Zoof being
their companion in play-hours, when he entertained them with enchanting
stories in the best Parisian French, about "a lovely city at the foot
of a mountain," where he always promised one day to take them.
The end of March came, but the cold was not intense to such a degree
as to confine any of the party to the interior of their resort;
several excursions were made along the shore, and for a radius
of three or four miles the adjacent district was carefully explored.
Investigation, however, always ended in the same result; turn their course
in whatever direction they would, they found that the country retained
everywhere its desert character, rocky, barren, and without a trace
of vegetation. Here and there a slight layer of snow, or a thin coating
of ice arising from atmospheric condensation indicated the existence
of superficial moisture, but it would require a period indefinitely long,
exceeding human reckoning, before that moisture could collect
into a stream and roll downwards over the stony strata to the sea.
It seemed at present out of their power to determine whether the land
upon which they were so happily settled was an island or a continent,
and till the cold was abated they feared to undertake any lengthened
expedition to ascertain the actual extent of the strange concrete
of metallic crystallization.
By ascending one day to the summit of the volcano, Captain Servadac and
the count succeeded in getting a general idea of the aspect of the country.
The mountain itself was an enormous block rising symmetrically to a height of
nearly 3,000 feet above the level of the sea, in the form of a truncated cone,
of which the topmost section was crowned by a wreath of smoke issuing
continuously from the mouth of a narrow crater.
Under the old condition of terrestrial things, the ascent of this
steep acclivity would have been attended with much fatigue,
but as the effect of the altered condition of the law of gravity,
the travelers performed perpetual prodigies in the way of agility,
and in little over an hour reached the edge of the crater,
without more sense of exertion than if they had traversed
a couple of miles on level ground. Gallia had its drawbacks,
but it had some compensating advantages.
Telescopes in hand, the explorers from the summit scanned the
surrounding view. Their anticipations had already realized what they saw.
Just as they expected, on the north, east, and west lay the Gallian Sea,
smooth and motionless as a sheet of glass, the cold having, as it were,
congealed the atmosphere so that there was not a breath of wind.
Towards the south there seemed no limit to the land, and the volcano formed
the apex of a triangle, of which the base was beyond the reach of vision.
Viewed even from this height, whence distance would do much to soften
the general asperity, the surface nevertheless seemed to be bristling
with its myriads of hexagonal lamellae, and to present difficulties which,
to an ordinary pedestrian, would be insurmountable.
"Oh for some wings, or else a balloon!" cried Servadac,
as he gazed around him; and then, looking down to the rock
upon which they were standing, he added, "We seem to have been
transplanted to a soil strange enough in its chemical character
to bewilder the _savants_ at a museum."
"And do you observe, captain," asked the count, "how the convexity
of our little world curtails our view? See, how circumscribed
is the horizon!"
Servadac replied that he had noticed the same circumstance from the top
of the cliffs of Gourbi Island.
"Yes," said the count; "it becomes more and more obvious that ours
is a very tiny world, and that Gourbi Island is the sole productive
spot upon its surface. We have had a short summer, and who knows
whether we are not entering upon a winter that may last for years,
perhaps for centuries?"
"But we must not mind, count," said Servadac, smiling. "We have agreed,
you know, that, come what may, we are to be philosophers."
"Ay, true, my friend," rejoined the count; "we must be philosophers
and something more; we must be grateful to the good Protector who has
hitherto befriended us, and we must trust His mercy to the end."
For a few moments they both stood in silence, and contemplated
land and sea; then, having given a last glance over
the dreary panorama, they prepared to wend their way down
the mountain. Before, however, they commenced their descent,
they resolved to make a closer examination of the crater.
They were particularly struck by what seemed to them almost
the mysterious calmness with which the eruption was effected.
There was none of the wild disorder and deafening tumult
that usually accompany the discharge of volcanic matter,
but the heated lava, rising with a uniform gentleness,
quietly overran the limits of the crater, like the flow of water
from the bosom of a peaceful lake. Instead of a boiler exposed
to the action of an angry fire, the crater rather resembled
a brimming basin, of which the contents were noiselessly escaping.
Nor were there any igneous stones or red-hot cinders mingled
with the smoke that crowned the summit; a circumstance that quite
accorded with the absence of the pumice-stones, obsidians,
and other minerals of volcanic origin with which the base
of a burning mountain is generally strewn.
Captain Servadac was of opinion that this peculiarity augured
favorably for the continuance of the eruption. Extreme violence
in physical, as well as in moral nature, is never of long duration.
The most terrible storms, like the most violent fits of passion,
are not lasting; but here the calm flow of the liquid fire appeared
to be supplied from a source that was inexhaustible, in the same way
as the waters of Niagara, gliding on steadily to their final plunge,
would defy all effort to arrest their course.
Before the evening of this day closed in, a most important change
was effected in the condition of the Gallian Sea by the intervention
of human agency. Notwithstanding the increasing cold, the sea,
unruffled as it was by a breath of wind, still retained its liquid state.
It is an established fact that water, under this condition of absolute
stillness, will remain uncongealed at a temperature several degrees
below zero, whilst experiment, at the same time, shows that a very
slight shock will often be sufficient to convert it into solid ice.
It had occurred to Servadac that if some communication could be opened
with Gourbi Island, there would be a fine scope for hunting expeditions.
Having this ultimate object in view, he assembled his little
colony upon a projecting rock at the extremity of the promontory,
and having called Nina and Pablo out to him in front, he said:
"Now, Nina, do you think you could throw something into the sea?"
"I think I could," replied the child, "but I am sure that Pablo
would throw it a great deal further than I can."
"Never mind, you shall try first."
Putting a fragment of ice into Nina's hand, he addressed himself to Pablo:
"Look out, Pablo; you shall see what a nice little fairy Nina is!
Throw, Nina, throw, as hard as you can."
Nina balanced the piece of ice two or three times in her hand,
and threw it forward with all her strength.
A sudden thrill seemed to vibrate across the motionless waters
to the distant horizon, and the Gallian Sea had become a solid
sheet of ice!
When, three hours after sunset, on the 23d of March, the Gallian
moon rose upon the western horizon, it was observed that she
had entered upon her last quarter. She had taken only four days
to pass from syzygy to quadrature, and it was consequently evident
that she would be visible for little more than a week at a time,
and that her lunation would be accomplished within sixteen days.
The lunar months, like the solar days, had been diminished by
one-half. Three days later the moon was in conjunction with the sun,
and was consequently lost to view; Ben Zoof, as the first observer
of the satellite, was extremely interested in its movements,
and wondered whether it would ever reappear.
On the 26th, under an atmosphere perfectly clear and dry,
the thermometer fell to 12 degrees F. below zero.
Of the present distance of Gallia from the sun, and the number
of leagues she had traversed since the receipt of the last
mysterious document, there were no means of judging;
the extent of diminution in the apparent disc of the sun did
not afford sufficient basis even for an approximate calculation;
and Captain Servadac was perpetually regretting that they could
receive no further tidings from the anonymous correspondent,
whom he persisted in regarding as a fellow-countryman.
The solidity of the ice was perfect; the utter stillness of the air at
the time when the final congelation of the waters had taken place had resulted
in the formation of a surface that for smoothness would rival a skating-rink;
without a crack or flaw it extended far beyond the range of vision.
The contrast to the ordinary aspect of polar seas was very remarkable.
There, the ice-fields are an agglomeration of hummocks and icebergs,
massed in wild confusion, often towering higher than the masts
of the largest whalers, and from the instability of their foundations
liable to an instantaneous loss of equilibrium; a breath of wind,
a slight modification of the temperature, not unfrequently serving
to bring about a series of changes outrivaling the most elaborate
transformation scenes of a pantomime. Here, on the contrary, the vast
white plain was level as the desert of Sahara or the Russian steppes;
the waters of the Gallian Sea were imprisoned beneath the solid sheet,
which became continually stouter in the increasing cold.
Accustomed to the uneven crystallizations of their own frozen seas,
the Russians could not be otherwise than delighted with the polished