Part 4 out of 7
surface that afforded them such excellent opportunity for enjoying
their favorite pastime of skating. A supply of skates, found hidden
away amongst the _Dobryna's_ stores, was speedily brought into use.
The Russians undertook the instruction of the Spaniards,
and at the end of a few days, during which the temperature
was only endurable through the absence of wind, there was not
a Gallian who could not skate tolerably well, while many of them
could describe figures involving the most complicated curves.
Nina and Pablo earned loud applause by their rapid proficiency;
Captain Servadac, an adept in athletics, almost outvied his instructor,
the count; and Ben Zoof, who had upon some rare occasions skated upon
the Lake of Montmartre (in his eyes, of course, a sea), performed
prodigies in the art.
This exercise was not only healthful in itself, but it was acknowledged that,
in case of necessity, it might become a very useful means of locomotion.
As Captain Servadac remarked, it was almost a substitute for railways,
and as if to illustrate this proposition, Lieutenant Procope, perhaps the
greatest expert in the party, accomplished the twenty miles to Gourbi Island
and back in considerably less than four hours.
The temperature, meanwhile, continued to decrease, and the average reading
of the thermometer was about 16 degrees F. below zero; the light also
diminished in proportion, and all objects appeared to be enveloped in a
half-defined shadow, as though the sun were undergoing a perpetual eclipse.
It was not surprising that the effect of this continuously overhanging gloom
should be to induce a frequent depression of spirits amongst the majority
of the little population, exiles as they were from their mother earth,
and not unlikely, as it seemed, to be swept far away into the regions
of another planetary sphere. Probably Count Timascheff, Captain Servadac,
and Lieutenant Procope were the only members of the community who could
bring any scientific judgment to bear upon the uncertainty that was
before them, but a general sense of the strangeness of their situation
could not fail at times to weigh heavily upon the minds of all.
Under these circumstances it was very necessary to counteract the tendency
to de-spond by continual diversion; and the recreation of skating thus
opportunely provided, seemed just the thing to arouse the flagging spirits,
and to restore a wholesome excitement.
With dogged obstinacy, Isaac Hakkabut refused to take any
share either in the labors or the amusements of the colony.
In spite of the cold, he had not been seen since the day
of his arrival from Gourbi Island. Captain Servadac
had strictly forbidden any communication with him;
and the smoke that rose from the cabin chimney of the _Hansa_
was the sole indication of the proprietor being still on board.
There was nothing to prevent him, if he chose, from partaking
gratuitously of the volcanic light and heat which were being
enjoyed by all besides; but rather than abandon his close
and personal oversight of his precious cargo, he preferred
to sacrifice his own slender stock of fuel.
Both the schooner and the tartan had been carefully moored in the way
that seemed to promise best for withstanding the rigor of the winter.
After seeing the vessels made secure in the frozen creek.
Lieutenant Procope, following the example of many Arctic explorers,
had the precaution to have the ice beveled away from the keels,
so that there should be no risk of the ships' sides being crushed
by the increasing pressure; he hoped that they would follow any
rise in the level of the ice-field, and when the thaw should come,
that they would easily regain their proper water-line.
On his last visit to Gourbi Island, the lieutenant had ascertained
that north, east, and west, far as the eye could reach,
the Gallian Sea had become one uniform sheet of ice.
One spot alone refused to freeze; this was the pool immediately
below the central cavern, the receptacle for the stream
of burning lava. It was entirely enclosed by rocks,
and if ever a few icicles were formed there by the action
of the cold, they were very soon melted by the fiery shower.
Hissing and spluttering as the hot lava came in contact with it,
the water was in a continual state of ebullition, and the fish
that abounded in its depths defied the angler's craft; they were,
as Ben Zoof remarked, "too much boiled to bite."
At the beginning of April the weather changed. The sky became overcast,
but there was no rise in the temperature. Unlike the polar winters
of the earth, which ordinarily are affected by atmospheric influence,
and liable to slight intermissions of their severity at various shiftings
of the wind, Gallia's winter was caused by her immense distance from
the source of all light and heat, and the cold was consequently destined
to go on steadily increasing until it reached the limit ascertained
by Fourier to be the normal temperature of the realms of space.
With the over-clouding of the heavens there arose a violent tempest;
but although the wind raged with an almost inconceivable fury, it was
unaccompanied by either snow or rain. Its effect upon the burning curtain
that covered the aperture of the central hall was very remarkable.
So far from there being any likelihood of the fire being extinguished
by the vehemence of the current of air, the hurricane seemed rather
to act as a ventilator, which fanned the flame into greater activity,
and the utmost care was necessary to avoid being burnt by the fragments
of lava that were drifted into the interior of the grotto. More than once
the curtain itself was rifted entirely asunder, but only to close up again
immediately after allowing a momentary draught of cold air to penetrate the
hall in a way that was refreshing and rather advantageous than otherwise.
On the 4th of April, after an absence of about four days, the new satellite,
to Ben Zoof's great satisfaction, made its reappearance in a crescent form,
a circumstance that seemed to justify the anticipation that henceforward it
would continue to make a periodic revolution every fortnight.
The crust of ice and snow was far too stout for the beaks
of the strongest birds to penetrate, and accordingly large
swarms had left the island, and, following the human population,
had taken refuge on the volcanic promontory; not that there
the barren shore had anything in the way of nourishment
to offer them, but their instinct impelled them to haunt now
the very habitations which formerly they would have shunned.
Scraps of food were thrown to them from the galleries;
these were speedily devoured, but were altogether inadequate
in quantity to meet the demand. At length, emboldened by hunger,
several hundred birds ventured through the tunnel, and took up their
quarters actually in Nina's Hive. Congregating in the large hall,
the half-famished creatures did not hesitate to snatch bread,
meat, or food of any description from the hands of the residents
as they sat at table, and soon became such an intolerable nuisance
that it formed one of the daily diversions to hunt them down;
but although they were vigorously attacked by stones and sticks,
and even occasionally by shot, it was with some difficulty
that their number could be sensibly reduced.
By a systematic course of warfare the bulk of the birds
were all expelled, with the exception of about a hundred,
which began to build in the crevices of the rocks.
These were left in quiet possession of their quarters, as not
only was it deemed advisable to perpetuate the various breeds,
but it was found that these birds acted as a kind of police,
never failing either to chase away or to kill any others of
their species who infringed upon what they appeared to regard
as their own special privilege in intruding within the limits
of their domain.
On the 15th loud cries were suddenly heard issuing from the mouth
of the principal gallery.
"Help, help! I shall be killed!"
Pablo in a moment recognized the voice as Nina's. Outrunning
even Ben Zoof he hurried to the assistance of his little playmate,
and discovered that she was being attacked by half a dozen
great sea-gulls, and only after receiving some severe blows
from their beaks could he succeed by means of a stout cudgel
in driving them away.
"Tell me, Nina, what is this?" he asked as soon as the tumult had subsided.
The child pointed to a bird which she was caressing tenderly in her bosom.
"A pigeon!" exclaimed Ben Zoof, who had reached the scene
of commotion, adding:
"A carrier-pigeon! And by all the saints of Montmartre,
there is a little bag attached to its neck!"
He took the bird, and rushing into the hall placed it in Servadac's hands.
"Another message, no doubt," cried the captain, "from our unknown friend.
Let us hope that this time he has given us his name and address."
All crowded round, eager to hear the news. In the struggle
with the gulls the bag had been partially torn open, but still
contained the following dispatch: "Gallia!
Chemin parcouru du 1er Mars au 1er Avril: 39,000,000 1.!
Distance du soleil: 110,000,000 1.!
Capte Nerina en passant.
Vivres vont manquer et . . ."
The rest of the document had been so damaged by the beaks of
the gulls that it was illegible. Servadac was wild with vexation.
He felt more and more convinced that the writer was a Frenchman, and that
the last line indicated that he was in distress from scarcity of food.
The very thought of a fellow-countryman in peril of starvation drove
him well-nigh to distraction, and it was in vain that search was made
everywhere near the scene of conflict in hopes of finding the missing
scrap that might bear a signature or address.
Suddenly little Nina, who had again taken possession of the pigeon,
and was hugging it to her breast, said:
"Look here, Ben Zoof!"
And as she spoke she pointed to the left wing of the bird.
The wing bore the faint impress of a postage-stamp, and the
one word: "FORMENTERA."
Formentera was at once recognized by Servadac and the count as the name
of one of the smallest of the Balearic Islands. It was more than probable
that the unknown writer had thence sent out the mysterious documents,
and from the message just come to hand by the carrier-pigeon, it appeared
all but certain that at the beginning of April, a fortnight back,
he had still been there. In one important particular the present
communication differed from those that had preceded it: it was written
entirely in French, and exhibited none of the ecstatic exclamations
in other languages that had been remarkable in the two former papers.
The concluding line, with its intimation of failing provisions,
amounted almost to an appeal for help. Captain Servadac briefly drew
attention to these points, and concluded by saying, "My friends, we must,
without delay, hasten to the assistance of this unfortunate man."
"For my part," said the count, "I am quite ready to accompany you;
it is not unlikely that he is not alone in his distress."
Lieutenant Procope expressed much surprise. "We must have passed close
to Formentera," he said, "when we explored the site of the Balearic Isles;
this fragment must be very small; it must be smaller than the remaining
splinter of Gibraltar or Ceuta; otherwise, surely it would never have
escaped our observation."
"However small it may be," replied Servadac, "we must find it.
How far off do you suppose it is?"
"It must be a hundred and twenty leagues away," said the lieutenant,
thoughtfully; "and I do not quite understand how you would propose
to get there."
"Why, on skates of course; no difficulty in that, I should imagine,"
answered Servadac, and he appealed to the count for confirmation
of his opinion.
The count assented, but Procope looked doubtful.
"Your enterprise is generous," he said, "and I should be most unwilling
to throw any unnecessary obstacle in the way of its execution; but, pardon me,
if I submit to you a few considerations which to my mind are very important.
First of all, the thermometer is already down to 22 degrees below zero, and
the keen wind from the south is making the temperature absolutely unendurable;
in the second place, supposing you travel at the rate of twenty leagues a day,
you would be exposed for at least six consecutive days; and thirdly,
your expedition will be of small avail unless you convey provisions not only
for yourselves, but for those whom you hope to relieve."
"We can carry our own provisions on our backs in knapsacks,"
interposed Servadac, quickly, unwilling to recognize any difficulty
in the way.
"Granted that you can," answered the lieutenant, quietly; "but where,
on this level ice-field, will you find shelter in your periods of rest?
You must perish with cold; you will not have the chance of digging
out ice-huts like the Esquimaux."
"As to rest," said Servadac, "we shall take none; we shall keep on our
way continuously; by traveling day and night without intermission,
we shall not be more than three days in reaching Formentera."
"Believe me," persisted the lieutenant, calmly, "your enthusiasm
is carrying you too far; the feat you propose is impossible;
but even conceding the possibility of your success in reaching
your destination, what service do you imagine that you,
half-starved and half-frozen yourself, could render to those
who are already perishing by want and exposure? you would
only bring them away to die."
The obvious and dispassionate reasoning of the lieutenant could
not fail to impress the minds of those who listened to him;
the impracticability of the journey became more and more apparent;
unprotected on that drear expanse, any trav-eler must assuredly succumb
to the snow-drifts that were continually being whirled across it.
But Hector Servadac, animated by the generous desire of rescuing
a suffering fellow-creature, could scarcely be brought within
the bounds of common sense. Against his better judgment he was
still bent upon the expedition, and Ben Zoof declared himself
ready to accompany his master in the event of Count Timascheff
hesitating to encounter the peril which the undertaking involved.
But the count entirely repudiated all idea of shrinking from what,
quite as much as the captain, he regarded as a sacred duty,
and turning to Lieutenant Procope, told him that unless some better
plan could be devised, he was prepared to start off at once
and make the attempt to skate across to Formentera. The lieutenant,
who was lost in thought, made no immediate reply.
"I wish we had a sledge," said Ben Zoof.
"I dare say that a sledge of some sort could be contrived," said the count;
"but then we should have no dogs or reindeers to draw it."
"Why not rough-shoe the two horses?"
"They would never be able to endure the cold," objected the count.
"Never mind," said Servadac, "let us get our sledge and put them to the test.
Something must be done!"
"I think," said Lieutenant Procope, breaking his thoughtful silence,
"that I can tell you of a sledge already provided for your hand,
and I can suggest a motive power surer and swifter than horses."
"What do you mean?" was the eager inquiry.
"I mean the _Dobryna_'s yawl," answered the lieutenant;
"and I have no doubt that the wind would carry her rapidly
along the ice."
The idea seemed admirable. Lieutenant Procope was well aware to what
marvelous perfection the Americans had brought their sail-sledges,
and had heard how in the vast prairies of the United States
they had been known to outvie the speed of an express train,
occasionally attaining a rate of more than a hundred miles an hour.
The wind was still blowing hard from the south, and assuming
that the yawl could be propelled with a velocity of about fifteen
or at least twelve leagues an hour, he reckoned that it was quite
possible to reach Formentera within twelve hours, that is to say,
in a single day between the intervals of sunrise and sunrise.
The yawl was about twelve feet long, and capable of holding
five or six people. The addition of a couple of iron runners
would be all that was requisite to convert it into an excellent
sledge, which, if a sail were hoisted, might be deemed certain
to make a rapid progress over the smooth surface of the ice.
For the protection of the passengers it was proposed to erect
a kind of wooden roof lined with strong cloth; beneath this could
be packed a supply of provisions, some warm furs, some cordials,
and a portable stove to be heated by spirits of wine.
For the outward journey the wind was as favorable as could be desired;
but it was to be apprehended that, unless the direction of the wind
should change, the return would be a matter of some difficulty;
a system of tacking might be carried out to a certain degree,
but it was not likely that the yawl would answer her helm
in any way corresponding to what would occur in the open sea.
Captain Servadac, however, would not listen to any representation
of probable difficulties; the future, he said, must provide for itself.
The engineer and several of the sailors set vigorously to work,
and before the close of the day the yawl was furnished with a pair
of stout iron runners, curved upwards in front, and fitted with a metal
scull designed to assist in maintaining the directness of her course;
the roof was put on, and beneath it were stored the provisions,
the wraps, and the cooking utensils.
A strong desire was expressed by Lieutenant Procope that he should be allowed
to accompany Captain Servadac instead of Count Timascheff. It was unadvisable
for all three of them to go, as, in case of there being several persons
to be rescued, the space at their command would be quite inadequate.
The lieutenant urged that he was the most experienced seaman, and as such was
best qualified to take command of the sledge and the management of the sails;
and as it was not to be expected that Servadac would resign his intention
of going in person to relieve his fellow-countryman, Procope submitted his own
wishes to the count. The count was himself very anxious to have his share
in the philanthropic enterprise, and demurred considerably to the proposal;
he yielded, however, after a time, to Servadac's representations that in
the event of the expedition proving disastrous, the little colony would need
his services alike as governor and protector, and overcoming his reluctance
to be left out of the perilous adventure, was prevailed upon to remain behind
for the general good of the community at Nina's Hive.
At sunrise on the following morning, the l6th of April, Captain Servadac
and the lieutenant took their places in the yawl. The thermometer
was more than 20 degrees below zero, and it was with deep emotion that
their companions beheld them thus embarking upon the vast white plain.
Ben Zoof's heart was too full for words; Count Timascheff could not
forbear pressing his two brave friends to his bosom; the Spaniards
and the Russian sailors crowded round for a farewell shake of the hand,
and little Nina, her great eyes flooded with tears, held up her face
for a parting kiss. The sad scene was not permitted to be long.
The sail was quickly hoisted, and the sledge, just as if it had expanded
a huge white wing, was in a little while carried far away beyond the horizon.
Light and unimpeded, the yawl scudded on with incredible speed.
Two sails, a brigantine and a jib, were arranged to catch the wind
to the greatest advantage, and the travelers estimated that their
progress would be little under the rate of twelve leagues an hour.
The motion of their novel vehicle was singularly gentle,
the oscillation being less than that of an ordinary railway-carriage,
while the diminished force of gravity contributed to the swiftness.
Except that the clouds of ice-dust raised by the metal runners
were an evidence that they had not actually left the level surface
of the ice, the captain and lieutenant might again and again have
imagined that they were being conveyed through the air in a balloon.
Lieutenant Procope, with his head all muffled up for fear of frost-bite,
took an occasional peep through an aperture that had been intentionally left
in the roof, and by the help of a compass, maintained a proper and straight
course for Formentera. Nothing could be more dejected than the aspect
of that frozen sea; not a single living creature relieved the solitude;
both the travelers, Procope from a scientific point of view, Servadac from
an aesthetic, were alike impressed by the solemnity of the scene,
and where the lengthened shadow of the sail cast upon the ice by the oblique
rays of the setting sun had disappeared, and day had given place to night,
the two men, drawn together as by an involuntary impulse, mutually held
each other's hands in silence.
There had been a new moon on the previous evening; but, in the absence
of moonlight, the constellations shone with remarkable brilliancy.
The new pole-star close upon the horizon was resplendent, and even
had Lieutenant Procope been destitute of a compass, he would have had
no difficulty in holding his course by the guidance of that alone.
However great was the distance that separated Gallia from the sun,
it was after all manifestly insignificant in comparison with the remoteness
of the nearest of the fixed stars.
Observing that Servadac was completely absorbed in his own thoughts,
Lieutenant Procope had leisure to contemplate some of the present
perplexing problems, and to ponder over the true astronomical position.
The last of the three mysterious documents had represented that Gallia,
in conformity with Kepler's second law, had traveled along her orbit during
the month of March twenty millions of leagues less than she had done
in the previous month; yet, in the same time, her distance from the sun
had nevertheless been increased by thirty-two millions of leagues.
She was now, therefore, in the center of the zone of telescopic
planets that revolve between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and had
captured for herself a satellite which, according to the document,
was Nerina, one of the asteroids most recently identified.
If thus, then, it was within the power of the unknown writer
to estimate with such apparent certainty Gallia's exact position,
was it not likely that his mathematical calculations would enable him
to arrive at some definite conclusion as to the date at which she
would begin again to approach the sun? Nay, was it not to be expected
that he had already estimated, with sufficient approximation to truth,
what was to be the true length of the Gallian year?
So intently had they each separately been following their own train
of thought, that daylight reappeared almost before the travelers were
aware of it. On consulting their instruments, they found that they
must have traveled close upon a hundred leagues since they started,
and they resolved to slacken their speed. The sails were accordingly
taken in a little, and in spite of the intensity of the cold,
the explorers ventured out of their shelter, in order that they might
reconnoiter the plain, which was apparently as boundless as ever.
It was completely desert; not so much as a single point of rock
relieved the bare uniformity of its surface.
"Are we not considerably to the west of Formentera?" asked Servadac,
after examining the chart.
"Most likely," replied Procope. "I have taken the same course as I should
have done at sea, and I have kept some distance to windward of the island;
we can bear straight down upon it whenever we like."
"Bear down then, now; and as quickly as you can."
The yawl was at once put with her head to the northeast
and Captain Servadac, in defiance of the icy blast,
remained standing at the bow, his gaze fixed on the horizon.
All at once his eye brightened.
"Look! look!" he exclaimed, pointing to a faint outline that broke
the monotony of the circle that divided the plain from the sky.
In an instant the lieutenant had seized his telescope.
"I see what you mean," said he; "it is a pylone that has been
used for some geodesic survey."
The next moment the sail was filled, and the yawl was
bearing down upon the object with inconceivable swiftness,
both Captain Servadac and the lieutenant too excited to utter a word.
Mile after mile the distance rapidly grew less, and as they
drew nearer the pylone they could see that it was erected on
a low mass of rocks that was the sole interruption to the dull
level of the field of ice. No wreath of smoke rose above
the little island; it was manifestly impossible, they conceived,
that any human being could there have survived the cold;
the sad presentiment forced itself upon their minds that it
was a mere cairn to which they had been hurrying.
Ten minutes later, and they were so near the rock that
the lieutenant took in his sail, convinced that the impetus
already attained would be sufficient to carry him to the land.
Servadac's heart bounded as he caught sight of a fragment of blue
canvas fluttering in the wind from the top of the pylone:
it was all that now remained of the French national standard.
At the foot of the pylone stood a miserable shed, its shutters
tightly closed. No other habitation was to be seen; the entire
island was less than a quarter of a mile in circumference;
and the conclusion was irresistible that it was the sole surviving
remnant of Formentera, once a member of the Balearic Archipelago.
To leap on shore, to clamber over the slippery stones,
and to reach the cabin was but the work of a few moments.
The worm-eaten door was bolted on the inside.
Servadac began to knock with all his might. No answer.
Neither shouting nor knocking could draw forth a reply.
"Let us force it open, Procope!" he said.
The two men put their shoulders to the door, which soon yielded to their
vigorous efforts, and they found themselves inside the shed, and in almost
total darkness. By opening a shutter they admitted what daylight they could.
At first sight the wretched place seemed to be deserted; the little grate
contained the ashes of a fire long since extinguished; all looked black
and desolate. Another instant's investigation, however, revealed a bed
in the extreme corner, and extended on the bed a human form.
"Dead!" sighed Servadac; "dead of cold and hunger!"
Lieutenant Procope bent down and anxiously contemplated the body.
"No; he is alive!" he said, and drawing a small flask from his pocket
he poured a few drops of brandy between the lips of the senseless man.
There was a faint sigh, followed by a feeble voice, which uttered
the one word, "Gallia?"
"Yes, yes! Gallia!" echoed Servadac, eagerly.
"My comet, my comet!" said the voice, so low as to be almost inaudible,
and the unfortunate man relapsed again into unconsciousness.
"Where have I seen this man?" thought Servadac to himself;
"his face is strangely familiar to me."
But it was no time for deliberation. Not a moment was to be lost
in getting the unconscious astronomer away from his desolate quarters.
He was soon conveyed to the yawl; his books, his scanty wardrobe,
his papers, his instruments, and the blackboard which had
served for his calculations, were quickly collected; the wind,
by a fortuitous Providence, had shifted into a favorable quarter;
they set their sail with all speed, and ere long were on their
journey back from Formentera.
Thirty-six hours later, the brave travelers were greeted by the
acclamations of their fellow-colonists, who had been most anxiously
awaiting their reappearance, and the still senseless _savant_,
who had neither opened his eyes nor spoken a word throughout
the journey, was safely deposited in the warmth and security
of the great hall of Nina's Hive.
END OF FIRST BOOK
By the return of the expedition, conveying its contribution from Formentera,
the known population of Gallia was raised to a total of thirty-six.
On learning the details of his friends' discoveries, Count Timascheff did
not hesitate in believing that the exhausted individual who was lying before
him was the author alike of the two unsigned documents picked up at sea,
and of the third statement so recently brought to hand by the carrier-pigeon.
Manifestly, he had arrived at some knowledge of Gallia's movements:
he had estimated her distance from the sun; he had calculated the diminution
of her tangential speed; but there was nothing to show that he had arrived
at the conclusions which were of the most paramount interest to them all.
Had he ascertained the true character of her orbit? had he established
any data from which it would be possible to reckon what time must elapse
before she would again approach the earth?
The only intelligible words which the astronomer had uttered
had been, "My comet!"
To what could the exclamation refer? Was it to be conjectured
that a fragment of the earth had been chipped off by the collision
of a comet? and if so, was it implied that the name of the comet
itself was Gallia, and were they mistaken in supposing that such was
the name given by the _savant_ to the little world that had been
so suddenly launched into space? Again and again they discussed.
these questions; but no satisfactory answer could be found.
The only man who was able to throw any light upon the subject was
lying amongst them in an unconscious and half-dying condition.
Apart from motives of humanity, motives of self-interest made it a matter
of the deepest concern to restore animation to that senseless form.
Ben Zoof, after making the encouraging remark that _savants_ have as many
lives as a cat, proceeded, with Negrete's assistance, to give the body
such a vigorous rubbing as would have threatened serious injury to any
ordinary mortal, whilst they administered cordials and restoratives
from the _Dobryna's_ medical stores powerful enough, one might think,
to rouse the very dead.
Meanwhile the captain was racking his brain in his exertions
to recall what were the circumstances of his previous acquaintance
with the Frenchman upon whose features he was gazing; he only grew
more and more convinced that he had once been familiar with them.
Perhaps it was not altogether surprising that he had almost
forgotten him; he had never seen him since the days of his youth,
that time of life which, with a certain show of justice, has been
termed the age of ingratitude; for, in point of fact, the astronomer
was none other than Professor Palmyrin Rosette, Servadac's old
science-master at the Lycee Charle-magne.
After completing his year of elementary studies, Hector Servadac had
entered the school at Saint Cyr, and from that time he and his former
tutor had never met, so that naturally they would well-nigh pass from
each other's recollection. One thing, however, on the other hand,
might conduce to a mutual and permanent impression on their memories;
during the year at the Lycee, young Servadac, never of a very studious
turn of mind, had contrived, as the ringleader of a set of like caliber
as himself, to lead the poor professor a life of perpetual torment.
On the discovery of each delinquency he would fume and rage in a manner
that was a source of unbounded delight to his audience.
Two years after Servadac left the Lycee, Professor Rosette had
thrown up all educational employment in order that he might devote
himself entirely to the study of astronomy. He endeavored to obtain
a post at the Observatory, but his ungenial character was so well
known in scientific circles that he failed in his application;
however, having some small private means, he determined on his own
account to carry on his researches without any official salary.
He had really considerable genius for the science that he had adopted;
besides discovering three of the latest of the telescopic planets,
he had worked out the elements of the three hundred and twenty-fifth
comet in the catalogue; but his chief delight was to criticize
the publications of other astronomers, and he was never better
pleased than when he detected a flaw in their reckonings.
When Ben Zoof and Negrete had extricated their patient from
the envelope of furs in which he had been wrapped by Servadac
and the lieutenant, they found themselves face to face with
a shrivelled little man, about five feet two inches high,
with a round bald head, smooth and shiny as an ostrich's egg,
no beard unless the unshorn growth of a week could be so described,
and a long hooked nose that supported a huge pair of spectacles
such as with many near-sighted people seems to have become a part
of their individuality. His nervous system was remarkably
developed, and his body might not inaptly be compared to one
of the Rhumkorff's bobbins of which the thread, several hundred
yards in length, is permeated throughout by electric fluid.
But whatever he was, his life, if possible, must be preserved.
When he had been partially divested of his clothing,
his heart was found to be still beating, though very feebly.
Asserting that while there was life there was hope, Ben Zoof
recommenced his friction with more vigor than ever.
When the rubbing had been continued without a moment's intermission
for the best part of half an hour, the astronomer heaved a
faint sigh, which ere long was followed by another and another.
He half opened his eyes, closed them again, then opened them completely,
but without exhibiting any consciousness whatever of his situation.
A few words seemed to escape his lips, but they were quite unintelligible.
Presently he raised his right hand to his forehead as though instinctively
feeling for something that was missing; then, all of a sudden,
his features became contracted, his face flushed with apparent irritation,
and he exclaimed fretfully, "My spectacles!--where are my spectacles?"
In order to facilitate his operations, Ben Zoof had removed the spectacles
in spite of the tenacity with which they seemed to adhere to the temples of
his patient; but he now rapidly brought them back and readjusted them as best
he could to what seemed to be their natural position on the aquiline nose.
The professor heaved a long sigh of relief, and once more closed his eyes.
Before long the astronomer roused himself a little more, and glanced
inquiringly about him, but soon relapsed into his comatose condition.
When next he opened his eyes, Captain Servadac happened to be bending
down closely over him, examining his features with curious scrutiny.
The old man darted an angry look at him through the spectacles,
and said sharply, "Servadac, five hundred lines to-morrow!"
It was an echo of days of old. The words were few, but they were enough
to recall the identity which Servadac was trying to make out.
"Is it possible?" he exclaimed. "Here is my old tutor, Mr. Rosette,
in very flesh and blood."
"Can't say much for the flesh," muttered Ben Zoof.
The old man had again fallen back into a torpid slumber.
Ben Zoof continued, "His sleep is getting more composed.
Let him alone; he will come round yet. Haven't I heard of men
more dried up than he is, being brought all the way from Egypt
in cases covered with pictures?"
"You idiot!--those were mummies; they had been dead for ages."
Ben Zoof did not answer a word. He went on preparing a warm bed,
into which he managed to remove his patient, who soon fell into a calm
and natural sleep.
Too impatient to await the awakening of the astronomer and to hear what
representations he had to make, Servadac, the count, and the lieutenant,
constituting themselves what might be designated "the Academy of Sciences"
of the colony, spent the whole of the remainder of the day in starting
and discussing the wildest conjectures about their situation.
The hypothesis, to which they had now accustomed themselves for so long,
that a new asteroid had been formed by a fracture of the earth's surface,
seemed to fall to the ground when they found that Professor Palmyrin Rosette
had associated the name of Gallia, not with their present home,
but with what he called "my comet"; and that theory being abandoned,
they were driven to make the most improbable speculations to replace it.
Alluding to Rosette, Servadac took care to inform his companions that,
although the professor was always eccentric, and at times very irascible,
yet he was really exceedingly good-hearted; his bark was worse than his bite;
and if suffered to take their course without observation, his outbreaks
of ill-temper seldom lasted long.
"We will certainly do our best to get on with him," said the count.
"He is no doubt the author of the papers, and we must hope that he will
be able to give us some valuable information."
"Beyond a question the documents have originated with him,"
assented the lieutenant. "Gallia was the word written at the top
of every one of them, and Gallia was the first word uttered
by him in our hearing."
The astronomer slept on. Meanwhile, the three together had no
hesitation in examining his papers, and scrutinizing the figures on his
extemporized blackboard. The handwriting corresponded with that of
the papers already received; the blackboard was covered with algebraical
symbols traced in chalk, which they were careful not to obliterate;
and the papers, which consisted for the most part of detached scraps,
presented a perfect wilderness of geometrical figures, conic sections
of every variety being repeated in countless profusion.
Lieutenant Procope pointed out that these curves evidently had reference to
the orbits of comets, which are variously parabolic, hyperbolic, or elliptic.
If either of the first two, the comet, after once appearing within the range
of terrestrial vision, would vanish forever in the outlying regions of space;
if the last, it would be sure, sooner or later, after some periodic interval,
From the _prima facie_ appearance of his papers, then, it seemed probable
that the astronomer, during his sojourn at Formentera, had been devoting
himself to the study of cometary orbits; and as calculations of this kind
are ordinarily based upon the assumption that the orbit is a parabola,
it was not unlikely that he had been endeavoring to trace the path
of some particular comet.
"I wonder whether these calculations were made before or after the 1st
of January; it makes all the difference," said Lieutenant Procope.
"We must bide our time and hear," replied the count.
Servadac paced restlessly up and down. "I would give a month of my life,"
he cried, impetuously, "for every hour that the old fellow goes sleeping on."
"You might be making a bad bargain," said Procope, smiling.
"Perhaps after all the comet has had nothing to do with the convulsion
that we have experienced."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed the captain; "I know better than that, and so do you.
Is it not as clear as daylight that the earth and this comet have been
in collision, and the result has been that our little world has been split
off and sent flying far into space?"
Count Timascheff and the lieutenant looked at each other in silence.
"I do not deny your theory," said Procope after a while.
"If it be correct, I suppose we must conclude that the enormous disc
we observed on the night of the catastrophe was the comet itself;
and the velocity with which it was traveling must have been
so great that it was hardly arrested at all by the attraction
of the earth."
"Plausible enough," answered Count Timascheff; "and it is to this comet
that our scientific friend here has given the name of Gallia."
It still remained a puzzle to them all why the astronomer should apparently
be interested in the comet so much more than in the new little world
in which their strange lot was cast.
"Can you explain this?" asked the count.
"There is no accounting for the freaks of philosophers, you know,"
said Servadac; "and have I not told you that this philosopher
in particular is one of the most eccentric beings in creation?"
"Besides," added the lieutenant, "it is exceedingly likely
that his observations had been going on for some considerable
period before the convulsion happened."
Thus, the general conclusion arrived at by the Gallian Academy
of Science was this: That on the night of the 31st of December,
a comet, crossing the ecliptic, had come into collision with
the earth, and that the violence of the shock had separated
a huge fragment from the globe, which fragment from that date
had been traversing the remote inter-planetary regions.
Palmyrin Rosette would doubtless confirm their solution
of the phenomenon.
To the general population of the colony the arrival of the stranger was
a matter of small interest. The Spaniards were naturally too indolent to be
affected in any way by an incident that concerned themselves so remotely;
while the Russians felt themselves simply reliant on their master, and as long
as they were with him were careless as to where or how they spent their days.
Everything went on with them in an accustomed routine; and they lay down
night after night, and awoke to their avocations morning after morning,
just as if nothing extraordinary had occurred.
All night long Ben Zoof would not leave the professor's bedside.
He had constituted himself sick nurse, and considered his reputation
at stake if he failed to set his patient on his feet again.
He watched every movement, listened to every breath, and never failed
to administer the strongest cordials upon the slightest pretext.
Even in his sleep Rosette's irritable nature revealed itself.
Ever and again, sometimes in a tone of uneasiness, and sometimes
with the expression of positive anger, the name of Gallia
escaped his lips, as though he were dreaming that his claim
to the discovery of the comet was being contested or denied;
but although his attendant was on the alert to gather all he could,
he was able to catch nothing in the incoherent sentences
that served to throw any real light upon the problem that they
were all eager to solve.
When the sun reappeared on the western horizon the professor
was still sound asleep; and Ben Zoof, who was especially
anxious that the repose which promised to be so beneficial
should not be disturbed, felt considerable annoyance at hearing
a loud knocking, evidently of some blunt heavy instrument against
a door that had been placed at the entrance of the gallery,
more for the purpose of retaining internal warmth than for guarding
against intrusion from without.
"Confound it!" said Ben Zoof. "I must put a stop to this;"
and he made his way towards the door.
"Who's there?" he cried, in no very amiable tone.
"I." replied the quavering voice.
"Who are you?"
"Isaac Hakkabut. Let me in; do, please, let me in."
"Oh, it is you, old Ashtaroth, is it? What do you want?
Can't you get anybody to buy your stuffs?"
"Nobody will pay me a proper price."
"Well, old Shimei, you won't find a customer here.
You had better be off."
"No; but do, please--do, please, let me in," supplicated the Jew. "I want
to speak to his Excellency, the governor."
"The governor is in bed, and asleep."
"I can wait until he awakes."
"Then wait where you are."
And with this inhospitable rejoinder the orderly was about to
return to his place at the side of his patient, when Servadac,
who had been roused by the sound of voices, called out,
"What's the matter, Ben Zoof?"
"Oh, nothing, sir; only that hound of a Hakkabut says he wants
to speak to you."
"Let him in, then."
Ben Zoof hesitated.
"Let him in, I say," repeated the captain, peremptorily.
However reluctantly, Ben Zoof obeyed. The door was unfastened,
and Isaac Hakkabut, enveloped in an old overcoat, shuffled into the gallery.
In a few moments Servadac approached, and the Jew began to overwhelm
him with the most obsequious epithets. Without vouchsafing any reply,
the captain beckoned to the old man to follow him, and leading
the way to the central hall, stopped, and turning so as to look
him steadily in the face, said, "Now is your opportunity.
Tell me what you want."
"Oh, my lord, my lord," whined Isaac, "you must have some news
to tell me."
"News? What do you mean?"
"From my little tartan yonder, I saw the yawl go out from the rock
here on a journey, and I saw it come back, and it brought a stranger;
and I thought--I thought--I thought--"
"Well, you thought--what did you think?"
"Why, that perhaps the stranger had come from the northern shores
of the Mediterranean, and that I might ask him--"
He paused again, and gave a glance at the captain.
"Ask him what? Speak out, man?"
"Ask him if he brings any tidings of Europe," Hakkabut blurted
out at last.
Servadac shrugged his shoulders in contempt and turned away.
Here was a man who had been resident three months in Gallia,
a living witness of all the abnormal phenomena that had occurred,
and yet refusing to believe that his hope of making good bargains with
European traders was at an end. Surely nothing, thought the captain,
will convince the old rascal now; and he moved off in disgust.
The orderly, however, who had listened with much amusement,
was by no means disinclined for the conversation to be continued.
"Are you satisfied, old Ezekiel?" he asked.
"Isn't it so? Am I not right? Didn't a stranger arrive here last night?"
inquired the Jew.
"Yes, quite true."
"From the Balearic Isles."
"The Balearic Isles?" echoed Isaac.
"Fine quarters for trade! Hardly twenty leagues from Spain! He must
have brought news from Europe!"
"Well, old Manasseh, what if he has?"
"I should like to see him."
The Jew sidled close up to Ben Zoof, and laying his hand on his arm,
said in a low and insinuating tone, "I am poor, you know; but I would
give you a few reals if you would let me talk to this stranger."
But as if he thought he was making too liberal an offer, he added,
"Only it must be at once."
"He is too tired; he is worn out; he is fast asleep,"
answered Ben Zoof.
"But I would pay you to wake him."
The captain had overheard the tenor of the conversation,
and interposed sternly, "Hakkabut! if you make the least
attempt to disturb our visitor, I shall have you turned outside
that door immediately."
"No offense, my lord, I hope," stammered out the Jew. "I only meant--"
"Silence!" shouted Servadac. The old man hung his head, abashed.
"I will tell you what," said Servadac after a brief interval;
"I will give you leave to hear what this stranger has to tell
as soon as he is able to tell us anything; at present we have
not heard a word from his lips."
The Jew looked perplexed.
"Yes," said Servadac; "when we hear his story, you shall hear it too."
"And I hope it will be to your liking, old Ezekiel!" added Ben Zoof
in a voice of irony.
They had none of them long to wait, for within a few minutes Rosette's
peevish voice was heard calling, "Joseph! Joseph!"
The professor did not open his eyes, and appeared to be slumbering on,
but very shortly afterwards called out again, "Joseph! Confound the
fellow! where is he?" It was evident that he was half dreaming
about a former servant now far away on the ancient globe.
"Where's my blackboard, Joseph?"
"Quite safe, sir," answered Ben Zoof, quickly.
Rosette unclosed his eyes and fixed them full upon the orderly's face.
"Are you Joseph?" he asked.
"At your service, sir," replied Ben Zoof with imperturbable gravity.
"Then get me my coffee, and be quick about it."
Ben Zoof left to go into the kitchen, and Servadac approached the professor
in order to assist him in rising to a sitting posture.
"Do you recognize your quondam pupil, professor?" he asked.
"Ah, yes, yes; you are Servadac," replied Rosette. "It is twelve
years or more since I saw you; I hope you have improved."
"Quite a reformed character, sir, I assure you," said Servadac, smiling.
"Well, that's as it should be; that's right," said the astronomer with
fussy importance. "But let me have my coffee," he added impatiently;
"I cannot collect my thoughts without my coffee."
Fortunately, Ben Zoof appeared with a great cup, hot and strong.
After draining it with much apparent relish, the professor got
out of bed, walked into the common hall, round which he glanced
with a pre-occupied air, and proceeded to seat himself in an armchair,
the most comfortable which the cabin of the _Dobryna_ had supplied.
Then, in a voice full of satisfaction, and that involuntarily
recalled the exclamations of delight that had wound up the two first
of the mysterious documents that had been received, he burst out,
"Well, gentlemen, what do you think of Gallia?"
There was no time for anyone to make a reply before Isaac Hakkabut
had darted forward.
"By the God--"
"Who is that?" asked the startled professor; and he frowned,
and made a gesture of repugnance.
Regardless of the efforts that were made to silence him,
the Jew continued, "By the God of Abraham, I beseech you,
give me some tidings of Europe!"
"Europe?" shouted the professor, springing from his seat as if
he were electrified; "what does the man want with Europe?"
"I want to get there!" screeched the Jew; and in spite of every exertion
to get him away, he clung most tenaciously to the professor's chair,
and again and again implored for news of Europe.
Rosette made no immediate reply. After a moment or two's reflection,
he turned to Servadac and asked him whether it was not the middle of April.
"It is the twentieth," answered the captain.
"Then to-day," said the astronomer, speaking with the greatest
deliberation--"to-day we are just three millions of leagues
away from Europe."
The Jew was utterly crestfallen.
"You seem here," continued the professor, "to be very ignorant
of the state of things."
"How far we are ignorant," rejoined Servadac, "I cannot tell.
But I will tell you all that we do know, and all that we have surmised."
And as briefly as he could, he related all that had happened
since the memorable night of the thirty-first of December; how they
had experienced the shock; how the _Dobryna_ had made her voyage;
how they had discovered nothing except the fragments of the old
continent at Tunis, Sardinia, Gibraltar, and now at Formentera;
how at intervals the three anonymous documents had been received;
and, finally, how the settlement at Gourbi Island had been abandoned
for their present quarters at Nina's Hive.
The astronomer had hardly patience to hear him to the end.
"And what do you say is your surmise as to your present position?"
"Our supposition," the captain replied, "is this. We imagine that we
are on a considerable fragment of the terrestrial globe that has been
detached by collision with a planet to which you appear to have given
the name of Gallia."
"Better than that!" cried Rosette, starting to his feet with excitement.
"How? Why? What do you mean?" cried the voices of the listeners.
"You are correct to a certain degree," continued the professor.
"It is quite true that at 47' 35.6" after two o'clock on the morning
of the first of January there was a collision; my comet grazed the earth;
and the bits of the earth which you have named were carried clean away."
They were all fairly bewildered.
"Where, then," cried Servadac eagerly, "where are we?"
"You are on my comet, on Gallia itself!"
And the professor gazed around him with a perfect air of triumph.
THE PROFESSOR'S EXPERIENCES
"Yes, my comet!" repeated the professor, and from time to time
he knitted his brows, and looked around him with a defiant air,
as though he could not get rid of the impression that someone
was laying an unwarranted claim to its proprietorship,
or that the individuals before him were intruders upon his
own proper domain.
But for a considerable while, Servadac, the count,
and the lieutenant remained silent and sunk in thought.
Here then, at last, was the unriddling of the enigma they
had been so long endeavoring to solve; both the hypotheses
they had formed in succession had now to give way before
the announcement of the real truth. The first supposition,
that the rotatory axis of the earth had been subject to some
accidental modification, and the conjecture that replaced it,
namely, that a certain portion of the terrestrial sphere had been
splintered off and carried into space, had both now to yield
to the representation that the earth had been grazed by an
unknown comet, which had caught up some scattered fragments from
its surface, and was bearing them far away into sidereal regions.
Unfolded lay the past and the present before them; but this
only served to awaken a keener interest about the future.
Could the professor throw any light upon that? they longed
to inquire, but did not yet venture to ask him.
Meanwhile Rosette assumed a pompous professional air, and appeared to be
waiting for the entire party to be ceremoniously introduced to him.
Nothing unwilling to humor the vanity of the eccentric little man,
Servadac proceeded to go through the expected formalities.
"Allow me to present to you my excellent friend, the Count Timascheff,"
"You are very welcome," said Rosette, bowing to the count
with a smile of condescension.
"Although I am not precisely a voluntary resident on your comet,
Mr. Professor, I beg to acknowledge your courteous reception,"
gravely responded Timascheff.
Servadac could not quite conceal his amusement at the count's irony,
but continued, "This is Lieutenant Procope, the officer in command
of the _Dobryna_."
The professor bowed again in frigid dignity.
"His yacht has conveyed us right round Gallia," added the captain.
"Round Gallia?" eagerly exclaimed the professor.
"Yes, entirely round it," answered Servadac, and without allowing
time for reply, proceeded, "And this is my orderly, Ben Zoof."
"Aide-de-camp to his Excellency the Governor of Gallia,"
interposed Ben Zoof himself, anxious to maintain his master's
honor as well as his own.
Rosette scarcely bent his head.
The rest of the population of the Hive were all presented in succession:
the Russian sailors, the Spaniards, young Pablo, and little Nina,
on whom the professor, evidently no lover of children, glared fiercely
through his formidable spectacles. Isaac Hakkabut, after his introduction,
begged to be allowed to ask one question.
"How soon may we hope to get back?" he inquired,
"Get back!" rejoined Rosette, sharply; "who talks of getting back?
We have hardly started yet."
Seeing that the professor was inclined to get angry, Captain Servadac
adroitly gave a new turn to the conversation by asking him whether
he would gratify them by relating his own recent experiences.
The astronomer seemed pleased with the proposal, and at once commenced
a verbose and somewhat circumlocutory address, of which the following
summary presents the main features.
The French Government, being desirous of verifying the
measurement already made of the arc of the meridian of Paris,
appointed a scientific commission for that purpose.
From that commission the name of Palmyrin Rosette was omitted,
apparently for no other reason than his personal unpopularity.
Furious at the slight, the professor resolved to set to work
independently on his own account, and declaring that there
were inaccuracies in the previous geodesic operations,
he determined to re-examine the results of the last triangulation
which had united Formentera to the Spanish coast by a triangle,
one of the sides of which measured over a hundred miles,
the very operation which had already been so successfully
accomplished by Arago and Biot.
Accordingly, leaving Paris for the Balearic Isles, he placed his
observatory on the highest point of Formentera, and accompanied
as he was only by his servant, Joseph, led the life of a recluse.
He secured the services of a former assistant, and dispatched him
to a high peak on the coast of Spain, where he had to superintend
a rever-berator, which, with the aid of a glass, could be seen
from Formentera. A few books and instruments, and two months'
victuals, was all the baggage he took with him, except an excellent
astronomical telescope, which was, indeed, almost part and parcel
of himself, and with which he assiduously scanned the heavens,
in the sanguine anticipation of making some discovery which would
immortalize his name.
The task he had undertaken demanded the utmost patience.
Night after night, in order to fix the apex of his triangle,
he had to linger on the watch for the assistant's signal-light,
but he did not forget that his predecessors, Arago and Biot,
had had to wait sixty-one days for a similar purpose.
What retarded the work was the dense fog which, it has been
already mentioned, at that time enveloped not only that part
of Europe, but almost the entire world.
Never failing to turn to the best advantage the few intervals
when the mist lifted a little, the astronomer would at the same
time cast an inquiring glance at the firmament, as he was
greatly interested in the revision of the chart of the heavens,
in the region contiguous to the constellation Gemini.
To the naked eye this constellation consists of only six stars, but through
a telescope ten inches in diameter, as many as six thousand are visible.
Rosette, however, did not possess a reflector of this magnitude,
and was obliged to content himself with the good but comparatively small
instrument he had.
On one of these occasions, whilst carefully gauging the recesses
of Gemini, he espied a bright speck which was unregistered in the chart,
and which at first he took for a small star that had escaped being
entered in the catalogue. But the observation of a few separate nights
soon made it manifest that the star was rapidly changing its position
with regard to the adjacent stars, and the astronomer's heart began
to leap at the thought that the renown of the discovery of a new planet
would be associated with his name.
Redoubling his attention, he soon satisfied himself that what
he saw was not a planet; the rapidity of its displacement
rather forced him to the conjecture that it must be a comet,
and this opinion was soon strengthened by the appearance of a coma,
and subsequently confirmed, as the body approached the sun,
by the development of a tail.
A comet! The discovery was fatal to all further progress
in the triangulation. However conscientiously the assistant
on the Spanish coast might look to the kindling of the beacon,
Rosette had no glances to spare for that direction;
he had no eyes except for the one object of his notice,
no thoughts apart from that one quarter of the firmament.
A comet! No time must be lost in calculating its elements.
Now, in order to calculate the elements of a comet, it is always
deemed the safest mode of procedure to assume the orbit to be
a parabola. Ordinarily, comets are conspicuous at their perihelia,
as being their shortest distances from the sun, which is the focus
of their orbit, and inasmuch as a parabola is but an ellipse with its
axis indefinitely produced, for some short portion of its pathway
the orbit may be indifferently considered either one or the other;
but in this particular case the professor was right in adopting
the supposition of its being parabolic.
Just as in a circle, it is necessary to know three points to determine
the circumference; so in ascertaining the elements of a comet,
three different positions must be observed before what astronomers
call its "ephemeris" can be established.
But Professor Rosette did not content himself with three positions;
taking advantage of every rift in the fog he made ten, twenty,
thirty observations both in right ascension and in declination,
and succeeded in working out with the most minute accuracy the five
elements of the comet which was evidently advancing with astounding
rapidity towards the earth.
These elements were:
l. The inclination of the plane of the cometary orbit to the plane
of the ecliptic, an angle which is generally considerable,
but in this case the planes were proved to coincide.
2. The position of the ascending node, or the point where the comet
crossed the terrestrial orbit.
These two elements being obtained, the position in space of the comet's
orbit was determined.
3. The direction of the axis major of the orbit, which was found
by calculating the longitude of the comet's perihelion.
4. The perihelion distance from the sun, which settled the precise form
of the parabola.
5. The motion of the comet, as being retrograde, or, unlike the planets,
from east to west.
Rosette thus found himself able to calculate the date at which the comet
would reach its perihelion, and, overjoyed at his discovery,
without thinking of calling it Palmyra or Rosette,
after his own name, he resolved that it should be known as Gallia.
His next business was to draw up a formal report.
Not only did he at once recognize that a collision with the earth
was possible, but he soon foresaw that it was inevitable,
and that it must happen on the night of the 31st of December;
moreover, as the bodies were moving in opposite directions,
the shock could hardly fail to be violent.
To say that he was elated at the prospect was far below the truth;
his delight amounted almost to delirium. Anyone else would have hurried
from the solitude of Formentera in sheer fright; but, without communicating
a word of his startling discovery, he remained resolutely at his post.
From occasional newspapers which he had received, he had learnt that fogs,
dense as ever, continued to envelop both hemispheres, so that he was
assured that the existence of the comet was utterly unknown elsewhere;
and the ignorance of the world as to the peril that threatened it averted
the panic that would have followed the publication of the facts, and left
the philosopher of Formentera in sole possession of the great secret.
He clung to his post with the greater persistency, because his calculations
had led him to the conclusion that the comet would strike the earth somewhere
to the south of Algeria, and as it had a solid nucleus, he felt sure that,
as he expressed it, the effect would be "unique," and he was anxious to be
in the vicinity.
The shock came, and with it the results already recorded.
Palmyrin Rosette was suddenly separated from his servant Joseph,
and when, after a long period of unconsciousness, he came to himself,
he found that he was the solitary occupant of the only fragment
that survived of the Balearic Archipelago.
Such was the substance of the narrative which the professor gave
with sundry repetitions and digressions; while he was giving it,
he frequently paused and frowned as if irritated in a way that seemed
by no means justified by the patient and good-humored demeanor
of his audience.
"But now, gentlemen," added the professor, "I must tell you something more.
Important changes have resulted from the collision; the cardinal points
have been displaced; gravity has been diminished: not that I ever
supposed for a minute, as you did, that I was still upon the earth.
No! the earth, attended by her moon, continued to rotate along
her proper orbit. But we, gentlemen, have nothing to complain of;
our destiny might have been far worse; we might all have been crushed
to death, or the comet might have remained in adhesion to the earth;
and in neither of these cases should we have had the satisfaction
of making this marvelous excursion through untraversed solar regions.
No, gentlemen, I repeat it, we have nothing to regret."
And as the professor spoke, he seemed to kindle with the emotion of such
supreme contentment that no one had the heart to gainsay his assertion.
Ben Zoof alone ventured an unlucky remark to the effect that if the comet
had happened to strike against Montmartre, instead of a bit of Africa,
it would have met with some resistance.
"Pshaw!" said Rosette, disdainfully. "A mole-hill like Montmartre
would have been ground to powder in a moment."
"Mole-hill!" exclaimed Ben Zoof, stung to the quick.
"I can tell you it would have caught up your bit of a comet
and worn it like a feather in a cap."
The professor looked angry, and Servadac having imposed silence
upon his orderly, explained the worthy soldier's sensitiveness
on all that concerned Montmartre. Always obedient to his master,
Ben Zoof held his tongue; but he felt that he could never forgive
the slight that had been cast upon his beloved home.
It was now all-important to learn whether the astronomer had been able
to continue his observations, and whether he had learned sufficient
of Gallia's path through space to make him competent to determine,
at least approximately, the period of its revolution round the sun.
With as much tact and caution as he could, Lieutenant Procope endeavored
to intimate the general desire for some information on this point.
"Before the shock, sir," answered the professor, "I had conclusively
demonstrated the path of the comet; but, in consequence of the
modifications which that shock has entailed upon my comet's orbit,
I have been compelled entirely to recommence my calculations."
The lieutenant looked disappointed.
"Although the orbit of the earth was unaltered," continued the professor,
"the result of the collision was the projection of the comet into
a new orbit altogether."
"And may I ask," said Procope, deferentially, "whether you have got
the elements of the fresh orbit?"
"Then perhaps you know--"
" I know this, sir, that at 47 minutes 35.6 seconds after two
o'clock on the morning of the 1st of January last, Gallia,
in passing its ascending node, came in contact with the earth;
that on the 10th of January it crossed the orbit of Venus;
that it reached its perihelion on the 15th; that it re-crossed
the orbit of Venus; that on the 1st of February it passed
its descending node; on the 13th crossed the orbit of Mars;
entered the zone of the telescopic planets on the 10th of March,
and, attracting Nerina, carried it off as a satellite."
"We are already acquainted with well-nigh all these extraordinary facts;
many of them, moreover, we have learned from documents which we have
picked up, and which, although unsigned, we cannot entertain a doubt
have originated with you."
Professor Rosette drew himself up proudly and said:
"Of course, they originated with me. I sent them off by hundreds.
From whom else could they come?"
"From no one but yourself, certainly," rejoined the count,
with grave politeness.
Hitherto the conversation had thrown no light upon the future movements
of Gallia, and Rosette was disposed apparently to evade, or at least
to postpone, the subject. When, therefore, Lieutenant Procope was about
to press his inquiries in a more categorical form, Servadac, thinking it
advisable not prematurely to press the little _savant_ too far,
interrupted him by asking the professor how he accounted for the earth
having suffered so little from such a formidable concussion.
"I account for it in this way," answered Rosette: "the earth
was traveling at the rate of 28,000 leagues an hour, and Gallia
at the rate of 57,000 leagues an hour, therefore the result
was the same as though a train rushing along at a speed of about
86,000 leagues an hour had suddenly encountered some obstacle.
The nucleus of the comet, being excessively hard, has done exactly
what a ball would do fired with that velocity close to a pane of glass.
It has crossed the earth without cracking it."
"It is possible you may be right," said Servadac, thoughtfully.
"Right! of course I am right!" replied the snappish professor.
Soon, however, recovering his equanimity, he continued:
"It is fortunate that the earth was only touched obliquely;
if the comet had impinged perpendicularly, it must have plowed
its way deep below the surface, and the disasters it might have
caused are beyond reckoning. Perhaps," he added, with a smile,
"even Montmartre might not have survived the calamity."
"Sir!" shouted Ben Zoof, quite unable to bear the unprovoked attack.
"Quiet, Ben Zoof!" said Servadac sternly.
Fortunately for the sake of peace, Isaac Hakkabut, who at length
was beginning to realize something of the true condition of things,
came forward at this moment, and in a voice trembling with eagerness,
implored the professor to tell him when they would all be back again
upon the earth.
"Are you in a great hurry?" asked the professor coolly.
The Jew was about to speak again, when Captain Servadac interposed:
"Allow me to say that, in somewhat more scientific terms, I was about
to ask you the same question. Did I not understand you to say that,
as the consequence of the collision, the character of the comet's orbit
has been changed?"
"You did, sir."
"Did you imply that the orbit has ceased to be a parabola?"
"Is it then an hyperbola? and are we to be carried on far and away
into remote distance, and never, never to return?"
"I did not say an hyperbola."
"And is it not?"
"It is not."
"Then it must be an ellipse?"
"And does its plane coincide with the plane of the earth?"
"Then it must be a periodic comet?"
Servadac involuntarily raised a ringing shout of joy that echoed
again along the gallery.
"Yes," continued the professor, "Gallia is a periodic comet,
and allowing for the perturbations to which it is liable from
the attraction of Mars and Jupiter and Saturn, it will return
to the earth again in two years precisely."
"You mean that in two years after the first shock, Gallia will meet the earth
at the same point as they met before?" said Lieutenant Procope.
"I am afraid so," said Rosette.
"Because we are doing exceedingly well as we are." The professor stamped
his foot upon the ground, by way of emphasis, and added, "If I had my will,
Gallia should never return to the earth again!"
A REVISED CALENDAR
All previous hypotheses, then, were now forgotten in the presence
of the one great fact that Gallia was a comet and gravitating through
remote solar regions. Captain Servadac became aware that the huge disc
that had been looming through the clouds after the shock was the form
of the retreating earth, to the proximity of which the one high tide
they had experienced was also to be attributed.
As to the fulfillment of the professor's prediction of an ultimate return
to the terrestrial sphere, that was a point on which it must be owned
that the captain, after the first flush of his excitement was over,
was not without many misgivings.
The next day or two were spent in providing for the accommodation
of the new comer. Fortunately his desires were very moderate;
he seemed to live among the stars, and as long as he was
well provided with coffee, he cared little for luxuries,
and paid little or no regard to the ingenuity with which all
the internal arrangements of Nina's Hive had been devised.
Anxious to show all proper respect to his former tutor,
Servadac proposed to leave the most comfortable apartment of
the place at his disposal; but the professor resolutely declined
to occupy it, saying that what he required was a small chamber,
no matter how small, provided that it was elevated and secluded,
which he could use as an observatory and where he might prosecute
his studies without disturbance. A general search was instituted,
and before long they were lucky enough to find, about a hundred
feet above the central grotto, a small recess or reduct hollowed,
as it were, in the mountain side, which would exactly
answer their purpose. It contained room enough for a bed,
a table, an arm-chair, a chest of drawers, and, what was
of still more consequence, for the indispensable telescope.
One small stream of lava, an off-shoot of the great torrent,
sufficed to warm the apartment enough.
In these retired quarters the astronomer took up his abode. It was on all
hands acknowledged to be advisable to let him go on entirely in his own way.
His meals were taken to him at stated intervals; he slept but little;
carried on his calculations by day, his observations by night, and very rarely
made his appearance amongst the rest of the little community.
The cold now became very intense, the thermometer registering
30 degrees F. below zero. The mercury, however, never exhibited
any of those fluctuations that are ever and again to be observed
in variable climates, but continued slowly and steadily to fall,
and in all probability would continue to do so until it reached
the normal temperature of the regions of outlying space.
This steady sinking of the mercury was accompanied by a complete
stillness of the atmosphere; the very air seemed to be congealed;
no particle of it stirred; from zenith to horizon there was never a cloud;
neither were there any of the damp mists or dry fogs which so often
extend over the polar regions of the earth; the sky was always clear;
the sun shone by day and the stars by night without causing any
perceptible difference in the temperature.
These peculiar conditions rendered the cold endurable even in the open air.
The cause of so many of the diseases that prove fatal to Arctic
explorers resides in the cutting winds, unwholesome fogs, or terrible
snow drifts, which, by drying up, relaxing, or otherwise affecting
the lungs, make them incapable of fulfilling their proper functions.
But during periods of calm weather, when the air has been absolutely still,
many polar navigators, well-clothed and properly fed, have been known
to withstand a temperature when the thermometer has fallen to 60 degrees
below zero. It was the experience of Parry upon Melville Island,
of Kane beyond latitude 81 degrees north, and of Hall and the crew
of the _Polaris_, that, however intense the cold, in the absence
of the wind they could always brave its rigor.
Notwithstanding, then, the extreme lowness of the temperature,
the little population found that they were able to move about
in the open air with perfect immunity. The governor general
made it his special care to see that his people were all well
fed and warmly clad. Food was both wholesome and abundant,
and besides the furs brought from the _Dobryna's_ stores, fresh skins
could very easily be procured and made up into wearing apparel.
A daily course of out-door exercise was enforced upon everyone;
not even Pablo and Nina were exempted from the general rule;
the two children, muffled up in furs, looking like little Esqui-meaux,
skated along together, Pablo ever at his companion's side,
ready to give her a helping hand whenever she was weary
with her exertions.
After his interview with the newly arrived astronomer,
Isaac Hakkabut slunk back again to his tartan. A change had come
over his ideas; he could no longer resist the conviction that
he was indeed millions and millions of miles away from the earth,
where he had carried on so varied and remunerative a traffic.
It might be imagined that this realization of his true position
would have led him to a better mind, and that, in some degree
at least, he would have been induced to regard the few
fellow-creatures with whom his lot had been so strangely cast,
otherwise than as mere instruments to be turned to his own personal
and pecuniary advantage; but no--the desire of gain was too
thoroughly ingrained into his hard nature ever to be eradicated,
and secure in his knowledge that he was under the protection
of a French officer, who, except under the most urgent necessity,
would not permit him to be molested in retaining his property,
he determined to wait for some emergency to arise which should
enable him to use his present situation for his own profit.
On the one hand, the Jew took it into account that although the chances
of returning to the earth might be remote, yet from what he had heard from
the professor he could not believe that they were improbable; on the other,
he knew that a considerable sum of money, in English and Russian coinage,
was in the possession of various members of the little colony, and this,
although valueless now, would be worth as much as ever if the proper condition
of things should be restored; accordingly, he set his heart on getting
all the monetary wealth of Gallia into his possession, and to do this
he must sell his goods. But he would not sell them yet; there might come
a time when for many articles the supply would not be equal to the demand;
that would be the time for him; by waiting he reckoned he should be able
to transact some lucrative business.
Such in his solitude were old Isaac's cogitations, whilst the universal
population of Nina's Hive were congratulating themselves upon being rid
of his odious presence.
As already stated in the message brought by the carrier pigeon,
the distance traveled by Gallia in April was 39,000,000 leagues,
and at the end of the month she was 110,000,000 leagues from the sun.
A diagram representing the elliptical orbit of the planet, accompanied by an
ephemeris made out in minute detail, had been drawn out by the professor.
The curve was divided into twenty-four sections of unequal length,
representing respectively the distance described in the twenty-four months
of the Gallian year, the twelve former divisions, according to Kepler's law,
gradually diminishing in length as they approached the point denoting
the aphelion and increasing as they neared the perihelion.
It was on the 12th of May that Rosette exhibited this result of his
labors to Servadac, the count, and the lieutenant, who visited his
apartment and naturally examined the drawing with the keenest interest.
Gallia's path, extending beyond the orbit of Jupiter, lay clearly
defined before their eyes, the progress along the orbit and the solar
distances being inserted for each month separately. Nothing could
look plainer, and if the professor's calculations were correct
(a point upon which they dared not, if they would, express the semblance
of a doubt), Gallia would accomplish her revolution in precisely two years,
and would meet the earth, which would in the same period of time have
completed two annual revolutions, in the very same spot as before.
What would be the consequences of a second collision they scarcely
ventured to think.
Without lifting his eye from the diagram, which he was still
carefully scrutinizing, Servadac said, "I see that during
the month of May, Gallia will only travel 30,400,000 leagues,
and that this will leave her about 140,000,000 leagues distant
from the sun."
"Just so," replied the professor.
"Then we have already passed the zone of the telescopic planets, have we not?"
asked the count.
"Can you not use your eyes?" said the professor, testily.
"If you will look you will see the zone marked clearly enough
upon the map."
Without noticing the interruption, Servadac continued his own remarks,
"The comet then, I see, is to reach its aphelion on the 15th of January,
exactly a twelvemonth after passing its perihelion."
"A twelvemonth! Not a Gallian twelvemonth?" exclaimed Rosette.
Servadac looked bewildered. Lieutenant Procope could not suppress a smile.
"What are you laughing at?" demanded the professor, turning round
upon him angrily.
"Nothing, sir; only it amuses me to see how you want to revise
the terrestrial calendar."
"I want to be logical, that's all."
"By all manner of means, my dear professor, let us be logical."
"Well, then, listen to me," resumed the professor, stiffly.
"I presume you are taking it for granted that the Gallian year--
by which I mean the time in which Gallia makes one revolution
round the sun--is equal in length to two terrestrial years."
They signified their assent.
"And that year, like every other year, ought to be divided
into twelve months."
"Yes, certainly, if you wish it," said the captain, acquiescing.
"If I wish it!" exclaimed Rosette. "Nothing of the sort!
Of course a year must have twelve months!"
"Of course," said the captain.
"And how many days will make a month?" asked the professor.
"I suppose sixty or sixty-two, as the case may be.
The days now are only half as long as they used to be,"
answered the captain.
"Servadac, don't be thoughtless!" cried Rosette, with all the petulant
impatience of the old pedagogue. "If the days are only half as long
as they were, sixty of them cannot make up a twelfth part of Gallia's year--
cannot be a month."
"I suppose not," replied the confused captain.
"Do you not see, then," continued the astronomer, "that if
a Gallian month is twice as long as a terrestrial month,
and a Gallian day is only half as long as a terrestrial day,
there must be a hundred and twenty days in every month?"
"No doubt you are right, professor," said Count Timascheff;
"but do you not think that the use of a new calendar such as this
would practically be very troublesome?"
"Not at all! not at all! I do not intend to use any other,"
was the professor's bluff reply.
After pondering for a few moments, the captain spoke again.
"According, then, to this new calendar, it isn't the middle
of May at all; it must now be some time in March."
"Yes," said the professor, "to-day is the 26th
of March. It is the 266th day of the Gallian year.
It corresponds with the 133d day of the terrestrial year.
You are quite correct, it is the 26th of March."
"Strange!" muttered Servadac.
"And a month, a terrestrial month, thirty old days, sixty new days hence,
it will be the 86th of March."
"Ha, ha!" roared the captain; "this is logic with a vengeance!"
The old professor had an undefined consciousness that his
former pupil was laughing at him; and as it was growing late,
he made an excuse that he had no more leisure. The visitors
accordingly quitted the observatory.
It must be owned that the revised calendar was left to the professor's
sole use, and the colony was fairly puzzled whenever he referred to such
unheard-of dates as the 47th of April or the 118th of May.
According to the old calendar, June had now arrived;
[illustration omitted] [page intentionally blank] and by the
professor's tables Gallia during the month would have advanced
27,500,000 leagues farther along its orbit, and would have attained
a distance of 155,000,000 leagues from the sun. The thermometer
continued to fall; the atmosphere remained clear as heretofore.
The population performed their daily avocations with systematic routine;
and almost the only thing that broke the monotony of existence was
an occasional visit from the blustering, nervous, little professor,
when some sudden fancy induced him to throw aside his astronomical studies
for a time, and pay a visit to the common hall. His arrival there was
generally hailed as the precursor of a little season of excitement.
Somehow or other the conversation would eventually work its way round
to the topic of a future collision between the comet and the earth;
and in the same degree as this was a matter of sanguine anticipation
to Captain Servadac and his friends, it was a matter of aversion
to the astronomical enthusiast, who had no desire to quit his present
quarters in a sphere which, being of his own discovery, he could
hardly have cared for more if it had been of his own creation.
The interview would often terminate in a scene of considerable animation.
On the 27th of June (old calendar) the professor burst like a
cannon-ball into the central hall, where they were all assembled,
and without a word of salutation or of preface, accosted the lieutenant
in the way in which in earlier days he had been accustomed to speak
to an idle school-boy, "Now, lieutenant! no evasions! no shufflings!
Tell me, have you or have you not circumnavigated Gallia?"
The lieutenant drew himself up stiffly. "Evasions! shufflings!
I am not accustomed, sir--" he began in a tone evidencing no
little resentment; but catching a hint from the count he subdued
his voice, and simply said, "We have."
"And may I ask," continued the professor, quite unaware of his
previous discourtesy, "whether, when you made your voyage,
you took any account of distances?"
"As approximately as I could," replied the lieutenant;
"I did what I could by log and compass. I was unable to take
the altitude of sun or star."
"At what result did you arrive? What is the measurement of our equator?"
"I estimate the total circumference of the equator to be about 1,400 miles."
"Ah!" said the professor, more than half speaking to himself,
"a circumference of 1,400 miles would give a diameter of about 450 miles.
That would be approximately about one-sixteenth of the diameter
of the earth."
Raising his voice, he continued, "Gentlemen, in order to complete
my account of my comet Gallia, I require to know its area, its mass,
its volume, its density, its specific gravity."
"Since we know the diameter," remarked the lieutenant, "there can
be no difficulty in finding its surface and its volume."
"And did I say there was any difficulty?" asked the professor, fiercely.
"I have been able to reckon that ever since I was born."
"Cock-a-doodle-doo!" cried Ben Zoof, delighted at any opportunity
of paying off his old grudge.
The professor looked at him, but did not vouchsafe a word.
Addressing the captain, he said, "Now, Servadac, take your paper
and a pen, and find me the surface of Gallia."
With more submission than when he was a school-boy, the captain
sat down and endeavored to recall the proper formula.
"The surface of a sphere? Multiply circumference by diameter."
"Right!" cried Rosette; "but it ought to be done by this time."
"Circumference, 1,400; diameter, 450; area of surface, 630,000,"
read the captain.
"True," replied Rosette, "630,000 square miles; just 292 times less
than that of the earth."
"Pretty little comet! nice little comet!" muttered Ben Zoof.
The astronomer bit his lip, snorted, and cast at him a withering look,
but did not take any further notice.
"Now, Captain Servadac," said the professor, "take your pen again,
and find me the volume of Gallia."
The captain hesitated.
"Quick, quick!" cried the professor, impatiently; "surely you
have not forgotten how to find the volume of a sphere!"
"A moment's breathing time, please."
"Breathing time, indeed! A mathematician should not want breathing time!
Come, multiply the surface by the third of the radius. Don't you recollect?"
Captain Servadac applied himself to his task while the by-standers waited,
with some difficulty suppressing their inclination to laugh.
There was a short silence, at the end of which Servadac announced
that the volume of the comet was 47,880,000 cubic miles.
"Just about 5,000 times less than the earth," observed the lieutenant.
"Nice little comet! pretty little comet!" said Ben Zoof.
The professor scowled at him, and was manifestly annoyed at having the
insignificant dimensions of his comet pointed out in so disparaging a manner.
Lieutenant Procope further remarked that from the earth he supposed it
to be about as conspicuous as a star of the seventh magnitude, and would
require a good telescope to see it.
"Ha, ha!" laughed the orderly, aloud; "charming little comet! so pretty;
and so modest!"
"You rascal!" roared the professor, and clenched his hand
in passion, as if about to strike him. Ben Zoof laughed the more,
and was on the point of repeating his satirical comments,
when a stern order from the captain made him hold his tongue.
The truth was that the professor was just as sensitive about his
comet as the orderly was about Montmartre, and if the contention
between the two had been allowed to go on unchecked, it is
impossible to say what serious quarrel might not have arisen.
When Professor Rosette's equanimity had been restored,
he said, "Thus, then, gentlemen, the diameter, the surface,
the volume of my comet are settled; but there is more to be done.
I shall not be satisfied until, by actual measurement,
I have determined its mass, its density, and the force of gravity
at its surface."
"A laborious problem," remarked Count Timascheff.
"Laborious or not, it has to be accomplished. I am resolved
to find out what my comet weighs."
"Would it not be of some assistance, if we knew of what substance
it is composed?" asked the lieutenant.
"That is of no moment at all," replied the professor;
"the problem is independent of it."
"Then we await your orders," was the captain's reply.
"You must understand, however," said Rosette, "that there are various
preliminary calculations to be made; you will have to wait till
they are finished."
"As long as you please," said the count.
"No hurry at all," observed the captain, who was not in the least
impatient to continue his mathematical exercises.
"Then, gentlemen," said the astronomer, "with your leave we
will for this purpose make an appointment a few weeks hence.
What do you say to the 62d of April?"
Without noticing the general smile which the novel date provoked,
the astronomer left the hall, and retired to his observatory.
WANTED: A STEELYARD
Under the still diminishing influence of the sun's attraction,
but without let or hindrance, Gallia continued its interplanetary course,
accompanied by Nerina, its captured satellite, which performed its
fortnightly revolutions with unvarying regularity.
Meanwhile, the question beyond all others important was ever
recurring to the minds of Servadac and his two companions:
were the astronomer's calculations correct, and was there a sound
foundation for his prediction that the comet would again touch
the earth? But whatever might be their doubts or anxieties,
they were fain to keep all their misgivings to themselves;
the professor was of a temper far too cross-grained for them
to venture to ask him to revise or re-examine the results
of his observations.
The rest of the community by no means shared in their uneasiness.
Negrete and his fellow-countrymen yielded to their destiny
with philosophical indifference. Happier and better provided
for than they had ever been in their lives, it did not give
them a passing thought, far less cause any serious concern,
whether they were still circling round the sun, or whether they
were being carried right away within the limits of another system.
Utterly careless of the future, the majos, light-hearted as ever,
carolled out their favorite songs, just as if they had never
quitted the shores of their native land.
Happiest of all were Pablo and Nina. Racing through the galleries
of the Hive, clambering over the rocks upon the shore, one day
skating far away across the frozen ocean, the next fishing
in the lake that was kept liquid by the heat of the lava-torrent,
the two children led a life of perpetual enjoyment.
Nor was their recreation allowed to interfere with their studies.
Captain Servadac, who in common with the count really liked them both,
conceived that the responsibilities of a parent in some degree
had devolved upon him, and took great care in superintending
their daily lessons, which he succeeded in making hardly less
pleasant than their sports.
Indulged and loved by all, it was little wonder that young
Pablo had no longing for the scorching plains of Andalusia,
or that little Nina had lost all wish to return with her pet
goat to the barren rocks of Sardinia. They had now a home
in which they had nothing to desire.
"Have you no father nor mother?" asked Pablo, one day.
"No," she answered.
"No more have I," said the boy, "I used to run along by the side
of the diligences when I was in Spain."
"I used to look after goats at Madalena," said Nina;
"but it is much nicer here--I am so happy here.
I have you for a brother, and everybody is so kind.
I am afraid they will spoil us, Pablo," she added, smiling.
"Oh, no, Nina; you are too good to be spoiled, and when I am with you,
you make me good too," said Pablo, gravely.
July had now arrived. During the month Gallia's advance along
its orbit would be reduced to 22,000,000 leagues, the distance from
the sun at the end being 172,000,000 leagues, about four and a half
times as great as the average distance of the earth from the sun.
It was traveling now at about the same speed as the earth,
which traverses the ecliptic at a rate of 21,000,000 leagues a month,
or 28,800 leagues an hour.
In due time the 62d April, according to the revised Gallian calendar, dawned;
and in punctual fulfillment of the professor's appointment, a note
was delivered to Servadac to say that he was ready, and hoped that day
to commence operations for calculating the mass and density of his comet,
as well as the force of gravity at its surface.
A point of far greater interest to Captain Servadac and his friends
would have been to ascertain the nature of the substance of which
the comet was composed, but they felt pledged to render the professor
any aid they could in the researches upon which he had set his heart.
Without delay, therefore, they assembled in the central hall, where they
were soon joined by Rosette, who seemed to be in fairly good temper.
"Gentlemen," he began, "I propose to-day to endeavor
to complete our observations of the elements of my comet.
Three matters of investigation are before us. First, the measure
of gravity at its surface; this attractive force we know,
by the increase of our own muscular force, must of course
be considerably less than that at the surface of the earth.
Secondly, its mass, that is, the quality of its matter.
And thirdly, its density or quantity of matter in a unit
of its volume. We will proceed, gentlemen, if you please,
to weigh Gallia."
Ben Zoof, who had just entered the hall, caught the professor's last sentence,
and without saying a word, went out again and was absent for some minutes.
When he returned, he said, "If you want to weigh this comet of yours,
I suppose you want a pair of scales; but I have been to look, and I
cannot find a pair anywhere. And what's more," he added mischievously,
"you won't get them anywhere."
A frown came over the professor's countenance. Servadac saw it,
and gave his orderly a sign that he should desist entirely
from his bantering.