Part 5 out of 7
"I require, gentlemen," resumed Rosette, "first of all to know by how much
the weight of a kilogramme here differs from its weight upon the earth;
the attraction, as we have said, being less, the weight will proportionately
be less also."
"Then an ordinary pair of scales, being under the influence
of attraction, I suppose, would not answer your purpose,"
submitted the lieutenant.
"And the very kilogramme weight you used would have become lighter,"
put in the count, deferentially.
"Pray, gentlemen, do not interrupt me," said the professor, authoritatively,
as if _ex cathedra_." I need no instruction on these points."
Procope and Timascheff demurely bowed their heads.
The professor resumed. "Upon a steelyard, or spring-balance, dependent
upon mere tension or flexibility, the attraction will have no influence.
If I suspend a weight equivalent to the weight of a kilogramme, the index
will register the proper weight on the surface of Gallia. Thus I shall
arrive at the difference I want: the difference between the earth's
attraction and the comet's. Will you, therefore, have the goodness
to provide me at once with a steelyard and a tested kilogramme?"
The audience looked at one another, and then at Ben Zoof,
who was thoroughly acquainted with all their resources.
"We have neither one nor the other," said the orderly.
The professor stamped with vexation.
"I believe old Hakkabut has a steelyard on board his tartan,"
said Ben Zoof, presently.
"Then why didn't you say so before, you idiot?" roared the
excitable little man.
Anxious to pacify him, Servadac assured him that every exertion
should be made to procure the instrument, and directed Ben Zoof
to go to the Jew and borrow it.
"No, stop a moment," he said, as Ben Zoof was moving away on his, errand;
"perhaps I had better go with you myself; the old Jew may make a difficulty
about lending us any of his property."
"Why should we not all go?" asked the count; "we should see what kind
of a life the misanthrope leads on board the _Hansa_."
The proposal met with general approbation. Before they started,
Professor Rosette requested that one of the men might be ordered to cut
him a cubic decimeter out of the solid substance of Gallia. "My engineer
is the man for that," said the count; "he will do it well for you if you
will give him the precise measurement."
"What! you don't mean," exclaimed the professor, again going off
into a passion, "that you haven't a proper measure of length?"
Ben Zoof was sent off to ransack the stores for the article in question,
but no measure was forthcoming. "Most likely we shall find one on
the tartan," said the orderly.
"Then let us lose no time in trying," answered the professor,
as he hustled with hasty strides into the gallery.
The rest of the party followed, and were soon in the open
air upon the rocks that overhung the shore. They descended
to the level of the frozen water and made their way towards
the little creek where the _Dobryna_ and the _Hansa_ lay firmly
imprisoned in their icy bonds.
The temperature was low beyond previous experience; but well muffled
up in fur, they all endured it without much actual suffering.
Their breath issued in vapor, which was at once congealed into little
crystals upon their whiskers, beards, eyebrows, and eyelashes,
until their faces, covered with countless snow-white prickles,
were truly ludicrous. The little professor, most comical of all,
resembled nothing so much as the cub of an Arctic bear.
It was eight o'clock in the morning. The sun was rapidly
approaching the zenith; but its disc, from the extreme remoteness,
was proportionately dwarfed; its beams being all but destitute
of their proper warmth and radiance. The volcano to its very summit
and the surrounding rocks were still covered with the unsullied
mantle of snow that had fallen while the atmosphere was still
to some extent charged with vapor; but on the north side the snow
had given place to the cascade of fiery lava, which, making its
way down the sloping rocks as far as the vaulted opening of
the central cavern, fell thence perpendicularly into the sea.
Above the cavern, 130 feet up the mountain, was a dark hole,
above which the stream of lava made a bifurcation in its course.
From this hole projected the case of an astronomer's telescope;
it was the opening of Palmyrin Rosette's observatory.
Sea and land seemed blended into one dreary whiteness,
to which the pale blue sky offered scarcely any contrast.
The shore was indented with the marks of many footsteps left
by the colonists either on their way to collect ice for
drinking purposes, or as the result of their skating expeditions;
the edges of the skates had cut out a labyrinth of curves
complicated as the figures traced by aquatic insects upon
the surface of a pool.
Across the quarter of a mile of level ground that lay between
the mountain and the creek, a series of footprints, frozen hard
into the snow, marked the course taken by Isaac Hakkabut on his
last return from Nina's Hive.
On approaching the creek, Lieutenant Procope drew his companions'
attention to the elevation of the _Dobryna's_ and _Hansa's_ waterline,
both vessels being now some fifteen feet above the level of the sea.
"What a strange phenomenon!" exclaimed the captain.
"It makes me very uneasy," rejoined the lieutenant;
"in shallow places like this, as the crust of ice thickens,
it forces everything upwards with irresistible force."
"But surely this process of congelation must have a limit!"
said the count.
"But who can say what that limit will be? Remember that we have not yet
reached our maximum of cold," replied Procope.
"Indeed, I hope not!" exclaimed the professor; "where would
be the use of our traveling 200,000,000 leagues from the sun,
if we are only to experience the same temperature as we should
find at the poles of the earth?"
"Fortunately for us, however, professor," said the lieutenant,
with a smile, "the temperature of the remotest space never descends
beyond 70 degrees below zero."
"And as long as there is no wind," added Servadac, "we may pass comfortably
through the winter, without a single attack of catarrh."
Lieutenant Procope proceeded to impart to the count his anxiety about
the situation of his yacht. He pointed out that by the constant superposition
of new deposits of ice, the vessel would be elevated to a great height,
and consequently in the event of a thaw, it must be exposed to a calamity
similar to those which in polar seas cause destruction to so many whalers.
There was no time now for concerting measures offhand to prevent
the disaster, for the other members of the party had already
reached the spot where the _Hansa_ lay bound in her icy trammels.
A flight of steps, recently hewn by Hakkabut himself, gave access
for the present to the gangway, but it was evident that some
different contrivance would have to be resorted to when the tartan
should be elevated perhaps to a hundred feet.
A thin curl of blue smoke issued from the copper funnel that
projected above the mass of snow which had accumulated upon
the deck of the _Hansa_. The owner was sparing of his fuel,
and it was only the non-conducting layer of ice enveloping
the tartan that rendered the internal temperature endurable.
"Hi! old Nebuchadnezzar, where are you?" shouted Ben Zoof,
at the full strength of his lungs.
At the sound of his voice, the cabin door opened, and the Jew's
head and shoulders protruded onto the deck.
MONEY AT A PREMIUM
"Who's there? I have nothing here for anyone. Go away!"
Such was the inhospitable greeting with which Isaac Hakkabut
received his visitors.
"Hakkabut! do you take us for thieves?" asked Servadac,
in tones of stern displeasure.
"Oh, your Excellency, my lord, I did not know that it "was you,"
whined the Jew, but without emerging any farther from his cabin.
"Now, old Hakkabut, come out of your shell! Come and show the governor
proper respect, when he gives you the honor of his company," cried Ben Zoof,
who by this time had clambered onto the deck.
After considerable hesitation, but still keeping his hold upon
the cabin-door, the Jew made up his mind to step outside.
"What do you want?" he inquired, timorously.
"I want a word with you," said Servadac, "but I do not want to stand
talking out here in the cold."
Followed by the rest of the party, he proceeded to mount the steps.
The Jew trembled from head to foot. "But I cannot let you into my cabin.
I am a poor man; I have nothing to give you," he moaned piteously.
"Here he is!" laughed Ben Zoof, contemptuously; "he is beginning his
chapter of lamentations over again. But standing out here will never do.
Out of the way, old Hakkabut, I say! out of the way!" and, without more ado,
he thrust the astonished Jew on one side and opened the door of the cabin.
Servadac, however, declined to enter until he had taken the pains to explain
to the owner of the tartan that he had no intention of laying violent hands
upon his property, and that if the time should ever come that his cargo
was in requisition for the common use, he should receive a proper price
for his goods, the same as he would in Europe.
"Europe, indeed!" muttered the Jew maliciously between his teeth.
"European prices will not do for me. I must have Gallian prices--
and of my own fixing, too!"
So large a portion of the vessel had been appropriated to the cargo
that the space reserved for the cabin was of most meager dimensions.
In one corner of the compartment stood a small iron stove, in which
smoldered a bare handful of coals; in another was a trestle-board
which served as a bed; two or three stools and a rickety deal table,
together with a few cooking utensils, completed a stock of furniture
which was worthy of its proprietor.
On entering the cabin, Ben Zoof's first proceeding was to throw on
the fire a liberal supply of coals, utterly regardless of the groans
of poor Isaac, who would almost as soon have parted with his
own bones as submit to such reckless expenditure of his fuel.
The perishing temperature of the cabin, however, was sufficient
justification for the orderly's conduct, and by a little skillful
manipulation he soon succeeded in getting up a tolerable fire.
The visitors having taken what seats they could, Hakkabut closed the door,
and, like a prisoner awaiting his sentence, stood with folded hands,
expecting the captain to speak.
"Listen," said Servadac; "we have come to ask a favor."
Imagining that at least half his property was to be confiscated, the Jew
began to break out into his usual formula about being a poor man and having
nothing to spare; but Servadac, without heeding his complainings, went on:
"We are not going to ruin you, you know."
Hakkabut looked keenly into the captain's face.
"We have only come to know whether you can lend us a steelyard."
So far from showing any symptom of relief, the old miser exclaimed,
with a stare of astonishment, as if he had been asked for some
thousand francs: "A steelyard?"
"Yes!" echoed the professor, impatiently; "a steelyard."
"Have you not one?" asked Servadac.
"To be sure he has!" said Ben Zoof.
Old Isaac stammered and stuttered, but at last confessed that perhaps
there might be one amongst the stores.
"Then, surely, you will not object to lend it to us?"
said the captain.
"Only for one day," added the professor.
The Jew stammered again, and began to object. "It is a very
delicate instrument, your Excellency. The cold, you know,
the cold may do injury to the spring; and perhaps you are going
to use it to weigh something very heavy."
"Why, old Ephraim, do you suppose we are going to weigh a mountain with it?"
said Ben Zoof.
"Better than that!" cried out the professor, triumphantly; "we are going
to weigh Gallia with it; my comet."
"Merciful Heaven!" shrieked Isaac, feigning consternation
at the bare suggestion.
Servadac knew well enough that the Jew was holding out only for a
good bargain, and assured him that the steelyard was required for no
other purpose than to weigh a kilogramme, which (considering how much
lighter everything had become) could not possibly put the slightest
strain upon the instrument.
The Jew still spluttered, and moaned, and hesitated.
"Well, then," said Servadac, "if you do not like to lend us your steelyard,
do you object to sell it to us?"
Isaac fairly shrieked aloud. "God of Israel!" he ejaculated,
"sell my steelyard? Would you deprive me of one of the most
indispensable of my means of livelihood? How should I weigh
my merchandise without my steelyard--my solitary steelyard,
so delicate and so correct?"
The orderly wondered how his master could refrain from strangling
the old miser upon the spot; but Servadac, rather amused than otherwise,
determined to try another form of persuasion. "Come, Hakkabut, I see
that you are not disposed either to lend or to sell your steelyard.
What do you say to letting us hire it?"
The Jew's eyes twinkled with a satisfaction that he was unable to conceal.
"But what security would you give? The instrument is very valuable;"
and he looked more cunning than ever.
"What is it worth? If it is worth twenty francs, I will leave
a deposit of a hundred. Will that satisfy you?"
He shook his head doubtfully. "It is very little; indeed, it is
too little, your Excellency. Consider, it is the only steelyard
in all this new world of ours; it is worth more, much more.
If I take your deposit it must be in gold--all gold.
But how much do you agree to give me for the hire--
the hire, one day?"
"You shall have twenty francs," said Servadac.
"Oh, it is dirt cheap; but never mind, for one day, you shall have it.
Deposit in gold money a hundred francs, and twenty francs for the hire."
The old man folded his hands in meek resignation.
"The fellow knows how to make a good bargain," said Servadac, as Isaac,
after casting a distrustful look around, went out of the cabin.
"Detestable old wretch!" replied the count, full of disgust.
Hardly a minute elapsed before the Jew was back again, carrying his
precious steelyard with ostentatious care. It was of an ordinary kind.
A spring balance, fitted with a hook, held the article to be weighed;
a pointer, revolving on a disc, indicated the weight of the article.
Professor Rosette was manifestly right in asserting that such a machine
would register results quite independently of any change in the force
of attraction. On the earth it would have registered a kilogramme
as a kilogramme; here it recorded a different value altogether,
as the result of the altered force of gravity.
Gold coinage to the worth of one hundred and twenty francs was handed
over to the Jew, who clutched at the money with unmistakable eagerness.
The steelyard was committed to the keeping of Ben Zoof, and the visitors
prepared to quit the _Hansa_.
All at once it occurred to the professor that the steelyard
would be absolutely useless to him, unless he had the means
for ascertaining the precise measurement of the unit of the soil
of Gallia which he proposed to weigh. "Something more you must
lend me," he said, addressing the Jew. "I must have a measure,
and I must have a kilogramme."
"I have neither of them," answered Isaac. "I have neither.
I am sorry; I am very sorry." And this time the old Jew spoke the truth.
He would have been really glad to do another stroke or two of business
upon terms as advantageous as the transaction he had just concluded.
Palmyrin Rosette scratched his head in perplexity, glaring round upon
his companions as if they were personally responsible for his annoyance.
He muttered something about finding a way out of his difficulty,
and hastily mounted the cabin-ladder. The rest followed, but they had hardly
reached the deck when the chink of money was heard in the room below.
Hakkabut was locking away the gold in one of the drawers.
Back again, down the ladder, scrambled the little professor,
and before the Jew was aware of his presence he had seized him
by the tail of his slouchy overcoat. "Some of your money!
I must have money!" he said.
"Money!" gasped Hakkabut; "I have no money." He was pale with fright,
and hardly knew what he was saying.
"Falsehood!" roared Rosette. "Do you think I cannot see?"
And peering down into the drawer which the Jew was vainly
trying to close, he cried, "Heaps of money! French money!
Five-franc pieces! the very thing I want! I must have them!"
The captain and his friends, who had returned to the cabin looked
on with mingled amusement and bewilderment.
"They are mine!" shrieked Hakkabut.
"I will have them!" shouted the professor.
"You shall kill me first!" bellowed the Jew.
"No, but I must!" persisted the professor again.
It was manifestly time for Servadac to interfere. "My dear professor,"
he said, smiling, "allow me to settle this little matter for you."
"Ah! your Excellency," moaned the agitated Jew, "protect me!
I am but a poor man--"
"None of that, Hakkabut. Hold your tongue." And, turning to Rosette,
the captain said, "If, sir, I understand right, you require some silver
five-franc pieces for your operation?"
"Forty," said Rosette, surlily.
"Two hundred francs!" whined Hakkabut.
"Silence!" cried the captain.
"I must have more than that," the professor continued.
"I want ten two-franc pieces, and twenty half-francs."
"Let me see," said Servadac, "how much is that in all?
Two hundred and thirty francs, is it not?"
"I dare say it is," answered the professor.
"Count, may I ask you," continued Servadac, "to be security to the Jew
for this loan to the professor?"
"Loan!" cried the Jew, "do you mean only a loan?"
"Silence!" again shouted the captain.
Count Timascheff, expressing his regret that his purse contained
only paper money, begged to place it at Captain Servadac's disposal.
"No paper, no paper!" exclaimed Isaac. "Paper has no currency in Gallia."
"About as much as silver," coolly retorted the count.
"I am a poor man," began the Jew.
"Now, Hakkabut, stop these miserable lamentations of yours, once for all.
Hand us over two hundred and thirty francs in silver money, or we will proceed
to help ourselves."
Isaac began to yell with all his might: "Thieves! thieves!"
In a moment Ben Zoof's hand was clasped tightly over his mouth.
"Stop that howling, Belshazzar!"
"Let him alone, Ben Zoof. He will soon come to his senses,"
said Servadac, quietly.
When the old Jew had again recovered himself, the captain addressed him.
"Now, tell us, what interest do you expect?"
Nothing could overcome the Jew's anxiety to make another good bargain.
He began: "Money is scarce, very scarce, you know--"
"No more of this!" shouted Servadac. "What interest, I say,
what interest do you ask?"
Faltering and undecided still, the Jew went on. "Very scarce, you know.
Ten francs a day, I think, would not be unreasonable, considering--"
The count had no patience to allow him to finish what he was about
to say. He flung down notes to the value of several rubles.
With a greediness that could not be concealed, Hakkabut grasped them all.
Paper, indeed, they were; but the cunning Israelite knew that they
would in any case be security far beyond the value of his cash.
He was making some eighteen hundred per cent. interest, and accordingly
chuckled within himself at his unexpected stroke of business.
The professor pocketed his French coins with a satisfaction far
more demonstrative. "Gentlemen," he said, "with these franc
pieces I obtain the means of determining accurately both a meter
and a kilogramme."
A quarter of an hour later, the visitors to the _Hansa_ had reassembled
in the common hall of Nina's Hive.
"Now, gentlemen, we can proceed," said the professor.
"May I request that this table may be cleared?"
Ben Zoof removed the various articles that were lying on the table,
and the coins which had just been borrowed from the Jew were placed
upon it in three piles, according to their value.
The professor commenced. "Since none of you gentlemen,
at the time of the shock, took the precaution to save either
a meter measure or a kilogramme weight from the earth,
and since both these articles are necessary for the calculation
on which we are engaged, I have been obliged to devise means
of my own to replace them."
This exordium delivered, he paused and seemed to watch its effect upon
his audience, who, however, were too well acquainted with the professor's
temper to make any attempt to exonerate themselves from the rebuke
of carelessness, and submitted silently to the implied reproach.
"I have taken pains," he continued, "to satisfy myself
that these coins are in proper condition for my purpose.
I find them unworn and unchipped; indeed, they are almost new.
They have been hoarded instead of circulated; accordingly, they are
fit to be utilized for my purpose of obtaining the precise
length of a terrestrial meter."
Ben Zoof looked on in perplexity, regarding the lecturer with much
the same curiosity as he would have watched the performances
of a traveling mountebank at a fair in Montmartre; but Servadac
and his two friends had already divined the professor's meaning.
They knew that French coinage is all decimal, the franc being
the standard of which the other coins, whether gold, silver, or copper,
are multiples or measures; they knew, too, that the caliber or
diameter of each piece of money is rigorously determined by law,
and that the diameters of the silver coins representing five francs,
two francs, and fifty centimes measure thirty-seven, twenty-seven,
and eighteen millimeters respectively; and they accordingly guessed
that Professor Rosette had conceived the plan of placing such a number
of these coins in juxtaposition that the length of their united
diameters should measure exactly the thousand millimeters that make
up the terrestrial meter.
The measurement thus obtained was by means of a pair of compasses
divided accurately into ten equal portions, or decimeters,
each of course 3.93 inches long. A lath was then cut of this
exact length and given to the engineer of the _Dobryna_,
who was directed to cut out of the solid rock the cubic decimeter
required by the professor.
The next business was to obtain the precise weight of a kilogramme.
This was by no means a difficult matter. Not only the diameters,
but also the weights, of the French coins are rigidly determined
by law, and as the silver five-franc pieces always weigh exactly
twenty-five grammes, the united weight of forty of these coins
is known to amount to one kilogramme.
"Oh!" cried Ben Zoof; "to be able to do all this I see you must
be rich as well as learned."
With a good-natured laugh at the orderly's remark, the meeting adjourned
for a few hours. By the appointed time the engineer had finished his task,
and with all due care had prepared a cubic decimeter of the material
of the comet.
"Now, gentlemen," said Professor Rosette, "we are in a position to complete
our calculation; we can now arrive at Gallia's attraction, density, and mass."
Everyone gave him his complete attention.
"Before I proceed," he resumed, "I must recall to your minds Newton's
general law, 'that the attraction of two bodies is directly proportional
to the product of their masses, and inversely proportional to the square
of their distances.'"
"Yes," said Servadac; "we remember that."
"Well, then," continued the professor, "keep it in mind for a few
minutes now. Look here! In this bag are forty five-franc pieces--
altogether they weigh exactly a kilogramme; by which I mean that
if we were on the earth, and I were to hang the bag on the hook of
the steelyard, the indicator on the dial would register one kilogramme.
This is clear enough, I suppose?"
As he spoke the professor designedly kept his eyes fixed
upon Ben Zoof. He was avowedly following the example
of Arago, who was accustomed always in lecturing to watch
the countenance of the least intelligent of his audience,
and when he felt that he had made his meaning clear to him,
he concluded that he must have succeeded with all the rest.
In this case, however, it was technical ignorance, rather than any
lack of intelligence, that justified the selection of the orderly
for this special attention.
Satisfied with his scrutiny of Ben Zoof's face, the professor went on.
"And now, gentlemen, we have to see what these coins weigh here upon Gallia."
He suspended the money bag to the hook; the needle oscillated, and stopped.
"Read it off!" he said.
The weight registered was one hundred and thirty-three grammes.
"There, gentlemen, one hundred and thirty-three grammes!
Less than one-seventh of a kilogramme! You see, consequently,
that the force of gravity here on Gallia is not one-seventh
of what it is upon the earth!"
"Interesting!" cried Servadac, "most interesting!
But let us go on and compute the mass."
"No, captain, the density first," said Rosette.
"Certainly," said the lieutenant; "for, as we already know the volume,
we can determine the mass as soon as we have ascertained the density."
The professor took up the cube of rock. "You know what this is,"
he went on to say. "You know, gentlemen, that this block is a cube
hewn from the substance of which everywhere, all throughout
your voyage of circumnavigation, you found Gallia to be composed--
a substance to which your geological attainments did not suffice
to assign a name."
"Our curiosity will be gratified," said Servadac, "if you
will enlighten our ignorance."
But Rosette did not take the slightest notice of the interruption.
"A substance it is which no doubt constitutes the sole material
of the comet, extending from its surface to its innermost depths.
The probability is that it would be so; your experience confirms
that probability: you have found no trace of any other substance.
Of this rock here is a solid decimeter; let us get at its weight,
and we shall have the key which will unlock the problem of
the whole weight of Gallia. We have demonstrated that the force
of attraction here is only one-seventh of what it is upon the earth,
and shall consequently have to multiply the apparent weight
of our cube by seven, in order to ascertain its proper weight.
Do you understand me, goggle-eyes?"
This was addressed to Ben Zoof, who was staring hard at him.
"No!" said Ben Zoof.
"I thought not; it is of no use waiting for your puzzle-brains
to make it out. I must talk to those who can understand."
The professor took the cube, and, on attaching it to the hook
of the steelyard, found that its apparent weight was one kilogramme
and four hundred and thirty grammes.
"Here it is, gentlemen; one kilogramme, four hundred and thirty grammes.
Multiply that by seven; the product is, as nearly as possible,
ten kilogrammes. What, therefore, is our conclusion? Why, that the
density of Gallia is just about double the density of the earth,
which we know is only five kilogrammes to a cubic decimeter.
Had it not been for this greater density, the attraction of Gallia
would only have been one-fifteenth instead of one-seventh of
the terrestrial attraction."
The professor could not refrain from exhibiting his gratification that,
however inferior in volume, in density, at least, his comet had the advantage
over the earth.
Nothing further now remained than to apply the investigations
thus finished to the determining of the mass or weight.
This was a matter of little labor.
"Let me see," said the captain; "what is the force of gravity
upon the various planets?"
"You can't mean, Servadac, that you have forgotten that?
But you always were a disappointing pupil."
The captain could not help himself: he was forced to confess
that his memory had failed him.
"Well, then," said the professor, "I must remind you.
Taking the attraction on the earth as 1, that on Mercury
is 1.15, on Venus it is .92, on Mars .5, and on Jupiter 2.45;
on the moon the attraction is .16, whilst on the surface of
the sun a terrestrial kilogramme would weigh 28 kilogrammes."
"Therefore, if a man upon the surface of the sun were to fall down,
he would have considerable difficulty in getting up again.
A cannon ball, too, would only fly a few yards," said Lieutenant Procope.
"A jolly battle-field for cowards!" exclaimed Ben Zoof.
"Not so jolly, Ben Zoof, as you fancy," said his master;
"the cowards would be too heavy to run away."
Ben Zoof ventured the remark that, as the smallness of Gallia
secured to its inhabitants such an increase of strength and agility,
he was almost sorry that it had not been a little smaller still.
"Though it could not anyhow have been very much smaller,"
he added, looking slyly at the professor.
"Idiot!" exclaimed Rosette. "Your head is too light already;
a puff of wind would blow it away."
"I must take care of my head, then, and hold it on,"
replied the irrepressible orderly.
Unable to get the last word, the professor was about to retire,
when Servadac detained him.
"Permit me to ask you one more question," he said.
"Can you tell me what is the nature of the soil of Gallia?"
"Yes, I can answer that. And in this matter I do not think your
impertinent orderly will venture to put Montmartre into the comparison.
This soil is of a substance not unknown upon the earth."
And speaking very slowly, the professor said: "It contains 70 per cent.
of tellurium, and 30 per cent. of gold."
Servadac uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"And the sum of the specific gravities of these two substances is 10,
precisely the number that represents Gallia's density."
"A comet of gold!" ejaculated the captain.
"Yes; a realization of what the illustrious Maupertuis has already
deemed probable," replied the astronomer.
"If Gallia, then, should ever become attached to the earth, might it
not bring about an important revolution in all monetary affairs?"
inquired the count.
"No doubt about it!" said Rosette, with manifest satisfaction.
"It would supply the world with about 246,000 trillions of francs."
"It would make gold about as cheap as dirt, I suppose," said Servadac.
The last observation, however, was entirely lost upon the professor,
who had left the hall with an air almost majestic, and was already
on his way to the observatory.
"And what, I wonder, is the use of all these big figures?"
said Ben Zoof to his master, when next day they were alone together.
"That's just the charm of them, my good fellow," was the captain's cool reply,
"that they are of no use whatever."
JUPITER SOMEWHAT CLOSE
Except as to the time the comet would take to revolve round the sun,
it must be confessed that all the professor's calculations had comparatively
little interest for anyone but himself, and he was consequently left
very much to pursue his studies in solitude.
The following day was the 1st of August, or, according to Rosette, the 63rd
of April. In the course of this month Gallia would travel 16,500,000 leagues,
attaining at the end a distance of 197,000,000 leagues from the sun.
This would leave 81,000,000 leagues more to be traversed before reaching
the aphelion of the 15th of January, after which it would begin once more
to approach the sun.
But meanwhile, a marvelous world, never before so close
within the range of human vision, was revealing itself.
No wonder that Palmyrin Rosette cared so little to quit
his observatory; for throughout those calm, clear Gallian nights,
when the book of the firmament lay open before him, he could
revel in a spectacle which no previous astronomer had ever been
permitted to enjoy.
The glorious orb that was becoming so conspicuous an object
was none other than the planet Jupiter, the largest of all
the bodies existing within the influence of solar attraction.
During the seven months that had elapsed since its collision
with the earth, the comet had been continuously approaching
the planet, until the distance between them was scarcely more
than 61,000,000 leagues, and this would go on diminishing until
the 15th of October.
Under these circumstances, was it perfectly certain that no
danger could accrue? Was not Gallia, when its pathway
led it into such close proximity to this enormous planet,
running a risk of being attracted within its influence?
Might not that influence be altogether disastrous?
The professor, it is true, in his estimate of the duration
of his comet's revolution, had represented that he had made
all proper allowances for any perturbations that would be caused
either by Jupiter, by Saturn, or by Mars; but what if there
were any errors in his calculations? what if there should be
any elements of disturbance on which he had not reckoned?
Speculations of this kind became more and more frequent,
and Lieutenant Procope pointed out that the danger incurred
might be of a fourfold character: first, that the comet,
being irresistibly attracted, might be drawn on to the very
surface of the planet, and there annihilated; secondly, that as
the result of being brought under that attraction, it might be
transformed into a satellite, or even a sub-satellite, of that
mighty world; thirdly, that it might be diverted into a new orbit,
which would never be coincident with the ecliptic; or, lastly,
its course might be so retarded that it would only reach
the ecliptic too late to permit any junction with the earth.
The occurrence of any one of these contingencies would be fatal
to their hopes of reunion with the globe, from which they had
been so strangely severed.
To Rosette, who, without family ties which he had never found leisure
or inclination to contract, had no shadow of desire to return to the earth,
it would be only the first of these probabilities that could give him
any concern. Total annihilation might not accord with his views, but he would
be quite content for Gallia to miss its mark with regard to the earth,
indifferent whether it revolved as a new satellite around Jupiter, or whether
it wended its course through the untraversed regions of the milky way.
The rest of the community, however, by no means sympathized with the
professor's sentiments, and the following month was a period of considerable
doubt and anxiety.
On the 1st of September the distance between Gallia and Jupiter was
precisely the same as the mean distance between the earth and the sun;
on the 16th, the distance was further reduced to 26,000,000 leagues.
The planet began to assume enormous dimensions, and it almost seemed
as if the comet had already been deflected from its elliptical orbit,
and was rushing on in a straight line towards the overwhelming luminary.
The more they contemplated the character of this gigantic planet,
the more they became impressed with the likelihood of a serious
perturbation in their own course. The diameter of Jupiter is
85,390 miles, nearly eleven times as great as that of the earth;
his volume is 1,387 times, and his mass 300 times greater;
and although the mean density is only about a quarter of that
of the earth, and only a third of that of water (whence it has
been supposed that the superficies of Jupiter is liquid), yet his
other proportions were large enough to warrant the apprehension
that important disturbances might result from his proximity.
"I forget my astronomy, lieutenant," said Servadac. "Tell me
all you can about this formidable neighbor."
The lieutenant having refreshed his memory by reference to
Flammarion's _Recits de l'Infini_, of which he had a Russian translation,
and some other books, proceeded to recapitulate that Jupiter accomplishes
his revolution round the sun in 4,332 days 14 hours and 2 minutes;
that he travels at the rate of 467 miles a minute along an orbit
measuring 2,976 millions of miles; and that his rotation on his axis
occupies only 9 hours and 55 minutes.
"His days, then, are shorter than ours?" interrupted the captain.
"Considerably," answered the lieutenant, who went on to
describe how the displacement of a point at the equator
of Jupiter was twenty-seven times as rapid as on the earth,
causing the polar compression to be about 2,378 miles; how the axis,
being nearly perpendicular, caused the days and nights to be
nearly of the same length, and the seasons to be invariable;
and how the amount of light and heat received by the planet
is only a twenty-fifth part of that received by the earth,
the average distance from the sun being 475,693,000 miles.
"And how about these satellites? Sometimes, I suppose, Jupiter has
the benefit of four moons all shining at once?" asked Servadac.
Of the satellites, Lieutenant Procope went on to say that one
is rather smaller than our own moon; that another moves round
its primary at an interval about equal to the moon's distance
from ourselves; but that they all revolve in considerably less time:
the first takes only l day 18 hours 27 minutes; the second takes
3 days 13 hours 14 minutes; the third, 7 days 3 hours 42 minutes;
whilst the largest of all takes but 16 days 16 hours 32 minutes.
The most remote revolves round the planet at a distance
of 1,192,820 miles.
"They have been enlisted into the service of science,"
said Procope. "It is by their movements that the velocity
of light has been calculated; and they have been made available
for the determination of terrestrial longitudes."
"It must be a wonderful sight," said the captain.
"Yes," answered Procope. "I often think Jupiter is like a prodigious
clock with four hands."
"I only hope that we are not destined to make a fifth hand,"
Such was the style of the conversation that was day by day reiterated
during the whole month of suspense. Whatever topic might be started,
it seemed soon to settle down upon the huge orb that was looming upon
them with such threatening aspect.
"The more remote that these planets are from the sun," said Procope,
"the more venerable and advanced in formation are they found to be.
Neptune, situated 2,746,271,000 miles from the sun, issued from
the solar nebulosity, thousands of millions of centuries back.
Uranus, revolving 1,753,851,000 miles from the center of the
planetary system, is of an age amounting to many hundred millions
of centuries. Jupiter, the colossal planet, gravitating at a distance
of 475,693,000 miles, may be reckoned as 70,000,000 centuries old.
Mars has existed for 1,000,000,000 years at a distance of 139,212,000 miles.
The earth, 91,430,000 miles from the sun, quitted his burning
bosom 100,000,000 years ago. Venus, revolving now 66,131,000
miles away, may be assigned the age of 50,000,000 years at least;
and Mercury, nearest of all, and youngest of all, has been revolving
at a distance of 35,393,000 miles for the space of 10,000,000 years--
the same time as the moon has been evolved from the earth."
Servadac listened attentively. He was at a loss what to say;
and the only reply he made to the recital of this novel theory was
to the effect that, if it were true, he would prefer being captured
by Mercury than by Jupiter, for Mercury, being so much the younger,
would probably prove the less imperative and self-willed master.
It was on the 1st of September that the comet had crossed
the orbit of Jupiter, and on the 1st of October the two
bodies were calculated to be at their minimum separation.
No direct shock, however, could be apprehended; the demonstration
was sufficiently complete that the orbit of Gallia did not
coincide with that of the planet, the orbit of Jupiter being
inclined at an angle of 1 degrees 19 mins to the orbit of the earth,
with which that of Gallia was, no doubt, coincident.
As the month of September verged towards its close, Jupiter began
to wear an aspect that must have excited the admiration
of the most ignorant or the most indifferent observer.
Its salient points were illumined with novel and radiant tints,
and the solar rays, reflected from its disc, glowed with a
mingled softness and intensity upon Gallia, so that Nerina
had to pale her beauty.
Who could wonder that Rosette, enthusiast as he was, should be
irremovable from his observatory? Who could expect otherwise than that,
with the prospect before him of viewing the giant among planets,
ten times nearer than any mortal eye had ever done, he should have
begrudged every moment that distracted his attention?
Meanwhile, as Jupiter grew large, the sun grew small.
From its increased remoteness the diameter of the sun's disc was diminished
to 5 degrees 46 mins.
And what an increased interest began to be associated
with the satellites! They were visible to the naked eye!
Was it not a new record in the annals of science?
Although it is acknowledged that they are not ordinarily visible on
earth without the aid of a somewhat powerful telescope, it has been
asserted that a favored few, endued with extraordinary powers of vision,
have been able to identify them with an unassisted eye; but here,
at least, in Nina's Hive were many rivals, for everyone could so far
distinguish them one from the other as to describe them by their colors.
The first was of a dull white shade; the second was blue; the third was
white and brilliant; the fourth was orange, at times approaching to a red.
It was further observed that Jupiter itself was almost void of scintillation.
Rosette, in his absorbing interest for the glowing glories of the planet,
seemed to be beguiled into comparative forgetfulness of the charms
of his comet; but no astronomical enthusiasm of the professor could
quite allay the general apprehension that some serious collision
might be impending.
Time passed on. There was nothing to justify apprehension.
The question was continually being asked, "What does
the professor really think?"
"Our friend the professor," said Servadac, "is not likely to tell us
very much; but we may feel pretty certain of one thing: he wouldn't keep us
long in the dark, if he thought we were not going back to the earth again.
The greatest satisfaction he could have would be to inform us that we had
parted from the earth for ever."
"I trust from my very soul," said the count, "that his
prognostications are correct."
"The more I see of him, and the more I listen to him," replied Servadac,
"the more I become convinced that his calculations are based on a
solid foundation, and will prove correct to the minutest particular."
Ben Zoof here interrupted the conversation. "I have something
on my mind," he said.
"Something on your mind? Out with it!" said the captain.
"That telescope!" said the orderly; "it strikes me that that telescope
which the old professor keeps pointed up at yonder big sun is bringing
it down straight upon us."
The captain laughed heartily.
"Laugh, captain, if you like; but I feel disposed to break the old
telescope into atoms."
"Ben Zoof," said Servadac, his laughter exchanged for a look
of stern displeasure, "touch that telescope, and you shall
swing for it!"
The orderly looked astonished.
"I am governor here," said Servadac.
Ben Zoof knew what his master meant, and to him his master's wish was law.
The interval between the comet and Jupiter was, by the 1st
of October, reduced to 43,000,000 miles. The belts all parallel
to Jupiter's equator were very distinct in their markings.
Those immediately north and south of the equator were of a dusky hue;
those toward the poles were alternately dark and light;
the intervening spaces of the planet's superficies, between edge
and edge, being intensely bright. The belts themselves were
occasionally broken by spots, which the records of astronomy
describe as varying both in form and in extent.
The physiology of belts and spots alike was beyond the astronomer's
power to ascertain; and even if he should be destined once again to take
his place in an astronomical congress on the earth, he would be just as
incapable as ever of determining whether or no they owed their existence
to the external accumulation of vapor, or to some internal agency.
It would not be Professor Rosette's lot to enlighten his brother
_savants_ to any great degree as to the mysteries that are associated
with this, which must ever rank as one of the most magnificent amongst
the heavenly orbs.
As the comet approached the critical point of its career it cannot
be denied that there was an unacknowledged consciousness of alarm.
Mutually reserved, though ever courteous, the count and the captain
were secretly drawn together by the prospect of a common danger;
and as their return to the earth appeared to them to become more
and more dubious, they abandoned their views of narrow isolation,
and tried to embrace the wider philosophy that acknowledges
the credibility of a habitable universe.
But no philosophy could be proof against the common instincts
of their humanity; their hearts, their hopes, were set upon
their natural home; no speculation, no science, no experience,
could induce them to give up their fond and sanguine anticipation
that once again they were to come in contact with the earth.
"Only let us escape Jupiter," said Lieutenant Procope, repeatedly, "and we
are free from anxiety."
"But would not Saturn lie ahead?" asked Servadac and the count
in one breath.
"No!" said Procope; "the orbit of Saturn is remote, and does
not come athwart our path. Jupiter is our sole hindrance.
Of Jupiter we must say, as William Tell said, 'Once through
the ominous pass and all is well.'"
The 15th of October came, the date of the nearest approximation
of the comet to the planet. They were only 31,000,000 miles apart.
What would now transpire? Would Gallia be diverted from its proper
way? or would it hold the course that the astronomer had predicted?
Early next morning the captain ventured to take the count and the lieutenant
up to the observatory. The professor was in the worst of tempers.
That was enough. It was enough, without a word, to indicate the course
which events had taken. The comet was pursuing an unaltered way.
The astronomer, correct in his prognostications, ought to
have been the most proud and contented of philosophers;
his pride and contentment were both overshadowed by the certainty
that the career of his comet was destined to be so transient,
and that it must inevitably once again come into collision
with the earth.
CHAPTER IX MARKET PRICES IN GALLIA
"All right!" said Servadac, convinced by the professor's ill humor
that the danger was past; "no doubt we are in for a two years'
excursion, but fifteen months more will take us back to the earth!"
"And we shall see Montmartre again!" exclaimed Ben Zoof,
in excited tones that betrayed his delight in the anticipation.
To use a nautical expression, they had safely "rounded the point,"
and they had to be congratulated on their successful navigation;
for if, under the influence of Jupiter's attraction, the comet had been
retarded for a single hour, in that hour the earth would have already
traveled 2,300,000 miles from the point where contact would ensue,
and many centuries would elapse before such a coincidence would
possibly again occur.
On the 1st of November Gallia and Jupiter were 40,000,000 miles apart.
It was little more than ten weeks to the 15th of January, when the comet
would begin to re-approach the sun. Though light and heat were
now reduced to a twenty-fifth part of their terrestrial intensity,
so that a perpetual twilight seemed to have settled over Gallia,
yet the population felt cheered even by the little that was left,
and buoyed up by the hope that they should ultimately regain their proper
position with regard to the great luminary, of which the temperature
has been estimated as not less than 5,000,000 degrees.
Of the anxiety endured during the last two months Isaac Hakkabut
had known nothing. Since the day he had done his lucky stroke
of business he had never left the tartan; and after Ben Zoof,
on the following day, had returned the steelyard and the
borrowed cash, receiving back the paper roubles deposited,
all communication between the Jew and Nina's Hive had ceased.
In the course of the few minutes' conversation which Ben Zoof
had held with him, he had mentioned that he knew that
the whole soil of Gallia was made of gold; but the old man,
guessing that the orderly was only laughing at him as usual,
paid no attention to the remark, and only meditated upon
the means he could devise to get every bit of the money
in the new world into his own possession. No one grieved
over the life of solitude which Hakkabut persisted in leading.
Ben Zoof giggled heartily, as he repeatedly observed "it was
astonishing how they reconciled themselves to his absence."
The time came, however, when various circumstances prompted him
to think he must renew his intercourse with the inhabitants of
the Hive. Some of his goods were beginning to spoil, and he felt
the necessity of turning them into money, if he would not be a loser;
he hoped, moreover, that the scarcity of his commodities would
secure very high prices.
It happened, just about this same time, that Ben Zoof had been
calling his master's attention to the fact that some of their most
necessary provisions would soon be running short, and that their stock
of coffee, sugar, and tobacco would want replenishing. Servadac's mind,
of course, turned to the cargo on board the _Hansa_, and he resolved,
according to his promise, to apply to the Jew and become a purchaser.
Mutual interest and necessity thus conspired to draw Hakkabut and
the captain together.
Often and often had Isaac gloated in his solitude over the prospect
of first selling a portion of his merchandise for all the gold
and silver in the colony. His recent usurious transaction
had whetted his appetite. He would next part with some more
of his cargo for all the paper money they could give him;
but still he should have goods left, and they would want these.
Yes, they should have these, too, for promissory notes.
Notes would hold good when they got back again to the earth;
bills from his Excellency the governor would be good bills;
anyhow there would be the sheriff. By the God of Israel!
he would get good prices, and he would get fine interest!
Although he did not know it, he was proposing to follow the practice of
the Gauls of old, who advanced money on bills for payment in a future life.
Hakkabut's "future life," however, was not many months in advance
of the present.
Still Hakkabut hesitated to make the first advance, and it was accordingly
with much satisfaction that he hailed Captain Servadac's appearance
on board the _Hansa_.
"Hakkabut," said the captain, plunging without further preface
into business, "we want some coffee, some tobacco, and other things.
I have come to-day to order them, to settle the price, and to-morrow
Ben Zoof shall fetch the goods away."
"Merciful, heavens!" the Jew began to whine; but Servadac cut him short.
"None of that miserable howling! Business! I am come to buy your goods.
I shall pay for them."
"Ah yes, your Excellency," whispered the Jew, his voice
trembling like a street beggar. "Don't impose on me.
I am poor; I am nearly ruined already."
"Cease your wretched whining!" cried Servadac. "I have told you once,
I shall pay for all I buy."
"Ready money?" asked Hakkabut.
"Yes, ready money. What makes you ask?" said the captain,
curious to hear what the Jew would say.
"Well, you see--you see, your Excellency," stammered out the Jew,
"to give credit to one wouldn't do, unless I gave credit to another.
You are solvent--I mean honorable, and his lordship the count is honorable;
"Well?" said Servadac, waiting, but inclined to kick the old rascal
out of his sight.
"I shouldn't like to give credit," he repeated.
"I have not asked you for credit. I have told you, you shall
have ready money."
"Very good, your Excellency. But how will you pay me?"
"Pay you? Why, we shall pay you in gold and silver and copper,
while our money lasts, and when that is gone we shall pay you
in bank notes."
"Oh, no paper, no paper!" groaned out the Jew, relapsing into
his accustomed whine.
"Nonsense, man!" cried Servadac.
"No paper!" reiterated Hakkabut.
"Why not? Surely you can trust the banks of England, France, and Russia."
"Ah no! I must have gold. Nothing so safe as gold."
"Well then," said the captain, not wanting to lose his temper,
"you shall have it your own way; we have plenty of gold for
the present. We will leave the bank notes for by and by."
The Jew's countenance brightened, and Servadac, repeating that
he should come again the next day, was about to quit the vessel.
"One moment, your Excellency," said Hakkabut, sidling up with
a hypocritical smile; "I suppose I am to fix my own prices."
"You will, of course, charge ordinary prices--proper market prices;
European prices, I mean."
"Merciful heavens!" shrieked the old man, "you rob me of my rights;
you defraud me of my privilege. The monopoly of the market belongs to me.
It is the custom; it is my right; it is my privilege to fix my own prices."
Servadac made him understand that he had no intention of swerving
from his decision.
"Merciful heavens!" again howled the Jew, "it is sheer ruin.
The time of monopoly is the time for profit; it is the
time for speculation."
"The very thing, Hakkabut, that I am anxious to prevent.
Just stop now, and think a minute. You seem to forget _my_ rights;
you are forgetting that, if I please, I can confiscate all your
cargo for the common use. You ought to think yourself lucky
in getting any price at all. Be contented with European prices;
you will get no more. I am not going to waste my breath on you.
I will come again to-morrow;" and, without allowing Hakkabut time
to renew his lamentations, Servadac went away.
All the rest of the day the Jew was muttering bitter curses against the
thieves of Gentiles in general, and the governor of Gallia in particular,
who were robbing him of his just profits, by binding him down to a maximum
price for his goods, just as if it were a time of revolution in the state.
But he would be even with them yet; he would have it all out of them:
he would make European prices pay, after all. He had a plan--he knew how;
and he chuckled to himself, and grinned maliciously.
True to his word, the captain next morning arrived at the tartan.
He was accompanied by Ben Zoof and two Russian sailors.
"Good-morning, old Eleazar; we have come to do our little bit
of friendly business with you, you know," was Ben Zoof's greeting.
"What do you want to-day?" asked the Jew.
"To-day we want coffee, and we want sugar, and we want tobacco.
We must have ten kilogrammes of each. Take care they are all good;
all first rate. I am commissariat officer, and I am responsible."
"I thought you were the governor's aide-de-camp," said Hakkabut.
"So I am, on state occasions; but to-day, I tell you.
I am superintendent of the commissariat department.
Now, look sharp!"
Hakkabut hereupon descended into the hold of the tartan, and soon returned,
carrying ten packets of tobacco, each weighing one kilogramme, and securely
fastened by strips of paper, labeled with the French government stamp.
"Ten kilogrammes of tobacco at twelve francs a kilogramme:
a hundred and twenty francs," said the Jew.
Ben Zoof was on the point of laying down the money, when Servadac stopped him.
"Let us just see whether the weight is correct."
Hakkabut pointed out that the weight was duly registered on
every packet, and that the packets had never been unfastened.
The captain, however, had his own special object in view,
and would not be diverted. The Jew fetched his steelyard,
and a packet of the tobacco was suspended to it.
"Merciful heavens!" screamed Isaac.
The index registered only 133 grammes!
"You see, Hakkabut, I was right. I was perfectly justified in having
your goods put to the test," said Servadac, quite seriously.
"But--but, your Excellency--" stammered out the bewildered man.
"You will, of course, make up the deficiency," the captain continued,
not noticing the interruption.
"Oh, my lord, let me say--" began Isaac again.
"Come, come, old Caiaphas, do you hear? You are to make up the deficiency,"
exclaimed Ben Zoof.
"Ah, yes, yes; but--"
The unfortunate Israelite tried hard to speak, but his agitation
prevented him. He understood well enough the cause of the phenomenon,
but he was overpowered by the conviction that the "cursed Gentiles"
wanted to cheat him. He deeply regretted that he had not a pair
of common scales on board.
"Come, I say, old Jedediah, you are a long while making up what's short,"
said Ben Zoof, while the Jew was still stammering on.
As soon as he recovered his power of articulation, Isaac began
to pour out a medley of lamentations and petitions for mercy.
The captain was inexorable. "Very sorry, you know, Hakkabut. It is
not my fault that the packet is short weight; but I cannot pay
for a kilogramme except I have a kilogramme."
Hakkabut pleaded for some consideration.
"A bargain is a bargain," said Servadac. "You must complete your contract."
And, moaning and groaning, the miserable man was driven to make
up the full weight as registered by his own steelyard.
He had to repeat the process with the sugar and coffee:
for every kilogramme he had to weigh seven. Ben Zoof and
the Russians jeered him most unmercifully.
"I say, old Mordecai, wouldn't you rather give your goods away,
than sell them at this rate? I would."
"I say, old Pilate, a monopoly isn't always a good thing, is it?"
"I say, old Sepharvaim, what a flourishing trade you're driving!"
Meanwhile seventy kilogrammes of each of the articles required were weighed,
and the Jew for each seventy had to take the price of ten.
All along Captain Servadac had been acting only in jest. Aware that
old Isaac was an utter hypocrite, he had no compunction in turning
a business transaction with him into an occasion for a bit of fun.
But the joke at an end, he took care that the Jew was properly paid
all his legitimate due.
FAR INTO SPACE
A month passed away. Gallia continued its course, bearing its little
population onwards, so far removed from the ordinary influence of human
passions that it might almost be said that its sole ostensible vice
was represented by the greed and avarice of the miserable Jew.
After all, they were but making a voyage--a strange, yet a transient,
excursion through solar regions hitherto untraversed;
but if the professor's calculations were correct--and why
should they be doubted?--their little vessel was destined,
after a two years' absence, once more to return "to port."
The landing, indeed, might be a matter of difficulty;
but with the good prospect before them of once again standing
on terrestrial shores, they had nothing to do at present
except to make themselves as comfortable as they could in
their present quarters.
Thus confident in their anticipations, neither the captain,
the count, nor the lieutenant felt under any serious
obligation to make any extensive provisions for the future;
they saw no necessity for expending the strength of the people,
during the short summer that would intervene upon the long
severity of winter, in the cultivation or the preservation
of their agricultural resources. Nevertheless, they often found
themselves talking over the measures they would have been driven
to adopt, if they had found themselves permanently attached
to their present home.
Even after the turning-point in their career, they knew that at least nine
months would have to elapse before the sea would be open to navigation;
but at the very first arrival of summer they would be bound to arrange for
the _Dobryna_ and the _Hansa_ to retransport themselves and all their animals
to the shores of Gourbi Island, where they would have to commence their
agricultural labors to secure the crops that must form their winter store.
During four months or thereabouts, they would lead the lives of farmers and
of sportsmen; but no sooner would their haymaking and their corn harvest have
been accomplished, than they would be compelled again, like a swarm of bees,
to retire to their semi-troglodyte existence in the cells of Nina's Hive.
Now and then the captain and his friends found themselves speculating whether,
in the event of their having to spend another winter upon Gallia,
some means could not be devised by which the dreariness of a second
residence in the recesses of the volcano might be escaped.
Would not another exploring expedition possibly result in the discovery
of a vein of coal or other combustible matter, which could be turned
to account in warming some erection which they might hope to put up?
A prolonged existence in their underground quarters was felt to be
monotonous and depressing, and although it might be all very well
for a man like Professor Rosette, absorbed in astronomical studies,
it was ill suited to the temperaments of any of themselves for any longer
period than was absolutely indispensable.
One contingency there was, almost too terrible to be taken into account.
Was it not to be expected that the time might come when the internal
fires of Gallia would lose their activity, and the stream of lava
would consequently cease to flow? Why should Gallia be exempt
from the destiny that seemed to await every other heavenly body?
Why should it not roll onwards, like the moon, a dark cold mass in space?
In the event of such a cessation of the volcanic eruption,
whilst the comet was still at so great a distance from the sun,
they would indeed be at a loss to find a substitute for what
alone had served to render life endurable at a temperature
of 60 degrees below zero. Happily, however, there was at
present no symptom of the subsidence of the lava's stream;
the volcano continued its regular and unchanging discharge,
and Servadac, ever sanguine, declared that it was useless
to give themselves any anxiety upon the matter.
On the l5th of December, Gallia was 276,000,000 leagues from the sun,
and, as it was approximately to the extremity of its axis major,
would travel only some 11,000,000 or 12,000,000 leagues during the month.
Another world was now becoming a conspicuous object in the heavens,
and Palmyrin Rosette, after rejoicing in an approach nearer to
Jupiter than any other mortal man had ever attained, was now to be
privileged to enjoy a similar opportunity of contemplating the
planet Saturn. Not that the circumstances were altogether so favorable.
Scarcely 31,000,000 miles had separated Gallia from Jupiter;
the minimum distance of Saturn would not be less than 415,000,000 miles;
but even this distance, although too great to affect the comet's
progress more than had been duly reckoned on, was considerably shorter
than what had ever separated Saturn from the earth.
To get any information about the planet from Rosette appeared
quite impossible. Although equally by night and by day he never
seemed to quit his telescope, he did not evince the slightest
inclination to impart the result of his observations.
It was only from the few astronomical works that happened
to be included in the _Dobryna's_ library that any details could
be gathered, but these were sufficient to give a large amount
of interesting information.
Ben Zoof, when he was made aware that the earth would be invisible
to the naked eye from the surface of Saturn, declared that he then,
for his part, did not care to learn any more about such a planet;
to him it was indispensable that the earth should remain in sight,
and it was his great consolation that hitherto his native sphere
had never vanished from his gaze.
At this date Saturn was revolving at a distance of 420,000,000
miles from Gallia, and consequently 874,440,000 miles
from the sun, receiving only a hundredth part of the light
and heat which that luminary bestows upon the earth.
On consulting their books of reference, the colonists found
that Saturn completes his revolution round the sun in a period
of 29 years and 167 days, traveling at the rate of more than
21,000 miles an hour along an orbit measuring 5,490 millions
of miles in length. His circumference is about 220,000 miles;
his superficies, 144,000 millions of square miles; his volume,
143,846 millions of cubic miles. Saturn is 735 times larger
than the earth, consequently he is smaller than Jupiter;
in mass he is only 90 times greater than the earth,
which gives him a density less than that of water.
He revolves on his axis in 10 hours 29 minutes, causing his own
year to consist of 86,630 days; and his seasons, on account
of the great inclination of his axis to the plane of his orbit,
are each of the length of seven terrestrial years.
Although the light received from the sun is comparatively feeble,
the nights upon Saturn must be splendid. Eight satellites--
Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea, Titan, Hyperion, and Japetus--
accompany the planet; Mimas, the nearest to its primary, rotating on its
axis in 221/2 hours, and revolving at a distance of only 120,800 miles,
whilst Japetus, the most remote, occupies 79 days in its rotation,
and revolves at a distance of 2,314,000 miles.
Another most important contribution to the magnificence of the nights
upon Saturn is the triple ring with which, as a brilliant setting,
the planet is encompassed. To an observer at the equator, this ring,
which has been estimated by Sir William Herschel as scarcely 100
miles in thickness, must have the appearance of a narrow band
of light passing through the zenith 12,000 miles above his head.
As the observer, however, increases his latitude either north
or south, the band will gradually widen out into three detached
and concentric rings, of which the innermost, dark though transparent,
is 9,625 miles in breadth; the intermediate one, which is brighter
than the planet itself, being 17,605 miles broad; and the outer,
of a dusky hue, being 8,660 miles broad.
Such, they read, is the general outline of this strange appendage,
which revolves in its own plane in 10 hours 32 minutes.
Of what matter it is composed, and how it resists disintegration,
is still an unsettled question; but it might almost seem
that the Designer of the universe, in permitting its existence,
had been willing to impart to His intelligent creatures the manner
in which celestial bodies are evolved, and that this remarkable
ring-system is a remnant of the nebula from which Saturn
was himself developed, and which, from some unknown cause,
has become solidified. If at any time it should disperse,
it would either fall into fragments upon the surface of Saturn,
or the fragments, mutually coalescing, would form additional
satellites to circle round the planet in its path.
To any observer stationed on the planet, between the extremes of lat.
45 degrees on either side of the equator, these wonderful rings would
present various strange phenomena. Sometimes they would appear as an
illuminated arch, with the shadow of Saturn passing over it like the hour-hand
over a dial; at other times they would be like a semi-aureole of light.
Very often, too, for periods of several years, daily eclipses of the sun
must occur through the interposition of this triple ring.
Truly, with the constant rising and setting of the satellites,
some with bright discs at their full, others like silver crescents,
in quadrature, as well as by the encircling rings, the aspect
of the heavens from the surface of Saturn must be as impressive
as it is gorgeous.
Unable, indeed, the Gallians were to realize all the marvels of this
strange world. After all, they were practically a thousand times
further off than the great astronomers have been able to approach
by means of their giant telescopes. But they did not complain;
their little comet, they knew, was far safer where it was;
far better out of the reach of an attraction which, by affecting
their path, might have annihilated their best hopes.
The distances of several of the brightest of the fixed stars have
been estimated. Amongst others, Vega in the constellation Lyra
is 100 millions of millions of miles away; Sirius in Canis Major,
123 millions of millions; the Pole-star, 282 millions of millions;
and Capella, 340 millions of millions of miles, a figure represented
by no less than fifteen digits.
The hard numerical statement of these enormous figures, however,
fails altogether in any adequate way to convey a due impression
of the magnitude of these distances. Astronomers, in their ingenuity,
have endeavored to use some other basis, and have found "the
velocity of light" to be convenient for their purpose.
They have made their representations something in this way:
"Suppose," they say, "an observer endowed with an infinite length of vision:
suppose him stationed on the surface of Capella; looking thence
towards the earth, he would be a spectator of events that had happened
seventy years previously; transport him to a star ten times distant,
and he will be reviewing the terrestrial sphere of 720 years back;
carry him away further still, to a star so remote that it requires
something less than nineteen centuries for light to reach it,
and he would be a witness of the birth and death of Christ;
convey him further again, and he shall be looking upon the dread
desolation of the Deluge; take him away further yet (for space is
infinite), and he shall be a spectator of the Creation of the spheres.
History is thus stereotyped in space; nothing once accomplished can
ever be effaced."
Who can altogether be astonished that Palmyrin Rosette, with his
burning thirst for astronomical research, should have been conscious
of a longing for yet wider travel through the sidereal universe?
With his comet now under the influence of one star, now of another,
what various systems might he not have explored! what undreamed-of
marvels might not have revealed themselves before his gaze!
The stars, fixed and immovable in name, are all of them in motion,
and Gallia might have followed them in their un-tracked way.
But Gallia had a narrow destiny. She was not to be allowed
to wander away into the range of attraction of another center;
nor to mingle with the star clusters, some of which have
been entirely, others partially resolved; nor was she to lose
herself amongst the 5,000 nebulae which have resisted hitherto
the grasp of the most powerful reflectors. No; Gallia was
neither to pass beyond the limits of the solar system,
nor to travel out of sight of the terrestrial sphere.
Her orbit was circumscribed to little over 1,500 millions
of miles; and, in comparison with the infinite space beyond,
this was a mere nothing.
A FETE DAY
The temperature continued to decrease; the mercurial thermometer,
which freezes at 42 degrees below zero, was no longer of service,
and the spirit thermometer of the _Dobryna_ had been brought into use.
This now registered 53 degrees below freezing-point.
In the creek, where the two vessels had been moored for the winter,
the elevation of the ice, in anticipation of which Lieutenant Procope
had taken the precautionary measure of beveling, was going on slowly
but irresistibly, and the tartan was upheaved fifty feet above
the level of the Gallian Sea, while the schooner, as being lighter,
had been raised to a still greater altitude.
So irresistible was this gradual process of elevation,
so utterly defying all human power to arrest, that the lieutenant
began to feel very anxious as to the safety of his yacht.
With the exception of the engine and the masts,
everything had been cleared out and conveyed to shore,
but in the event of a thaw it appeared that nothing short
of a miracle could prevent the hull from being dashed to pieces,
and then all means of leaving the promontory would be gone.
The _Hansa_, of course, would share a similar fate; in fact,
it had already heeled over to such an extent as to render it
quite dangerous for its obstinate owner, who, at the peril
of his life, resolved that he would stay where he could watch
over his all-precious cargo, though continually invoking curses
on the ill-fate of which he deemed himself the victim.
There was, however, a stronger will than Isaac Hakkabut's. Although
no one of all the community cared at all for the safety of the Jew,
they cared very much for the security of his cargo, and when Servadac
found that nothing would induce the old man to abandon his present
quarters voluntarily, he very soon adopted measures of coercion that
were far more effectual than any representations of personal danger.
"Stop where you like, Hakkabut," said the captain to him; "but understand
that I consider it my duty to make sure that your cargo is taken care of.
I am going to have it carried across to land, at once."
Neither groans, nor tears, nor protestations on the part of the Jew,
were of the slightest avail. Forthwith, on the 20th of December,
the removal of the goods commenced.
Both Spaniards and Russians were all occupied for several days
in the work of unloading the tartan. Well muffled up as they
were in furs, they were able to endure the cold with impunity,
making it their special care to avoid actual contact with any
article made of metal, which, in the low state of the temperature,
would inevitably have taken all the skin off their hands,
as much as if it had been red-hot. The task, however, was brought
to an end without accident of any kind; and when the stores
of the _Hansa_ were safely deposited in the galleries
of the Hive, Lieutenant Procope avowed that he really felt
that his mind had been unburdened from a great anxiety.
Captain Servadac gave old Isaac full permission to take up his residence
amongst the rest of the community, promised him the entire control over
his own property, and altogether showed him so much consideration that,
but for his unbounded respect for his master, Ben Zoof would have liked
to reprimand him for his courtesy to a man whom he so cordially despised.
Although Hakkabut clamored most vehemently about his goods
being carried off "against his will," in his heart he was more
than satisfied to see his property transferred to a place
of safety, and delighted, moreover, to know that the transport
had been effected without a farthing of expense to himself.
As soon, then, as he found the tartan empty, he was only too
glad to accept the offer that had been made him, and very soon
made his way over to the quarters in the gallery where his
merchandise had been stored. Here he lived day and night.
He supplied himself with what little food he required from
his own stock of provisions, a small spirit-lamp sufficing
to perform all the operations of his meager cookery.
Consequently all intercourse between himself and the rest of
the inhabitants was entirely confined to business transactions,
when occasion required that some purchase should be made from
his stock of commodities. Meanwhile, all the silver and gold of
the colony was gradually finding its way to a double-locked drawer,
of which the Jew most carefully guarded the key.
The 1st of January was drawing near, the anniversary of the shock
which had resulted in the severance of thirty-six human beings from
the society of their fellow-men. Hitherto, not one of them was missing.
The unvarying calmness of the climate, notwithstanding the cold,
had tended to maintain them in good health, and there seemed no reason
to doubt that, when Gallia returned to the earth, the total of its
little population would still be complete.
The 1st of January, it is true, was not properly "New Year's Day"
in Gallia, but Captain Servadac, nevertheless, was very anxious
to have it observed as a holiday.
"I do not think," he said to Count Timascheff and Lieutenant Procope,
"that we ought to allow our people to lose their interest in the world
to which we are all hoping to return; and how can we cement the bond
that ought to unite us, better than by celebrating, in common with our
fellow-creatures upon earth, a day that awakens afresh the kindliest
sentiments of all? Besides," he added, smiling, "I expect that Gallia,
although invisible just at present to the naked eye, is being closely
watched by the telescopes of our terrestrial friends, and I have no
doubt that the newspapers and scientific journals of both hemispheres
are full of accounts detailing the movements of the new comet."
"True," asserted the count. "I can quite imagine that we are occasioning
no small excitement in all the chief observatories."
"Ay, more than that," said the lieutenant; "our Gallia is certain
to be far more than a mere object of scientific interest or curiosity.
Why should we doubt that the elements of a comet which has once come into
collision with the earth have by this time been accurately calculated?
What our friend the professor has done here, has been done likewise on
the earth, where, beyond a question, all manner of expedients are being
discussed as to the best way of mitigating the violence of a concussion
that must occur."
The lieutenant's conjectures were so reasonable that they commanded assent.
Gallia could scarcely be otherwise than an object of terror to the inhabitants
of the earth, who could by no means be certain that a second collision would
be comparatively so harmless as the first. Even to the Gallians themselves,
much as they looked forward to the event, the prospect was not unmixed
with alarm, and they would rejoice in the invention of any device by which it
was likely the impetus of the shock might be deadened.
Christmas arrived, and was marked by appropriate religious observance
by everyone in the community, with the exception of the Jew,
who made a point of secluding himself more obstinately than ever
in the gloomy recesses of his retreat.
To Ben Zoof the last week of the year was full of bustle.
The arrangements for the New Year _fete_ were entrusted to him,
and he was anxious, in spite of the resources of Gallia being so limited,
to make the program for the great day as attractive as possible.
It was a matter of debate that night whether the professor should be
invited to join the party; it was scarcely likely that he would care
to come, but, on the whole, it was felt to be advisable to ask him.
At first Captain Servadac thought of going in person with
the invitation; but, remembering Rosette's dislike to visitors,
he altered his mind, and sent young Pablo up to the observatory
with a formal note, requesting the pleasure of Professor Rosette's
company at the New Year's _fete_.
Pablo was soon back, bringing no answer except that the professor
had told him that "to-day was the l25th of June, and that to-morrow
would be the 1st of July."
Consequently, Servadac and the count took it for granted that Palmyrin Rosette
declined their invitation.
An hour after sunrise on New Year's Day, Frenchmen, Russians, Spaniards,
and little Nina, as the representative of Italy, sat down to a
feast such as never before had been seen in Gallia. Ben Zoof
and the Russian cook had quite surpassed themselves. The wines,
part of the _Dobryna's_ stores, were of excellent quality.
Those of the vintages of France and Spain were drunk in toasting
their respective countries, and even Russia was honored in a
similar way by means of a few bottles of kummel. The company was
more than contented--it was as jovial as Ben Zoof could desire;
and the ringing cheers that followed the great toast of the day--"A
happy return to our Mother Earth," must fairly have startled
the professor in the silence of his observatory.
The _dejeuner_ over, there still remained three hours of daylight.
The sun was approaching the zenith, but so dim and enfeebled were his rays
that they were very unlike what had produced the wines of Bordeaux and
Burgundy which they had just been enjoying, and it was necessary for all,
before starting upon an excursion that would last over nightfall,
to envelop themselves in the thickest of clothing.
Full of spirits, the party left the Hive, and chattering and
singing as they went, made their way down to the frozen shore,
where they fastened on their skates. Once upon the ice,
everyone followed his own fancy, and some singly, some in groups,
scattered themselves in all directions. Captain Servadac,
the count, and the lieutenant were generally seen together.
Negrete and the Spaniards, now masters of their novel exercise,
wandered fleetly and gracefully hither and thither,
occasionally being out of sight completely. The Russian sailors,
following a northern custom, skated in file, maintaining their
rank by means of a long pole passed under their right arms,
and in this way they described a trackway of singular regularity.
The two children, blithe as birds, flitted about, now singly,
now arm-in-arm, now joining the captain's party, now making a short
peregrination by themselves, but always full of life and spirit.
As for Ben Zoof, he was here, there, and everywhere,
his imperturbable good temper ensuring him a smile of welcome
whenever he appeared.
Thus coursing rapidly over the icy plain, the whole party had
soon exceeded the line that made the horizon from the shore.
First, the rocks of the coast were lost to view; then the white crests
of the cliffs were no longer to be seen; and at last, the summit
of the volcano, with its corona of vapor, was entirely out of sight.
Occasionally the skaters were obliged to stop to recover their breath,
but, fearful of frost-bite, they almost instantly resumed their exercise,
and proceeded nearly as far as Gourbi Island before they thought
about retracing their course.
But night was coming on, and the sun was already sinking in the east with the
rapidity to which the residents on Gallia were by this time well accustomed.
The sunset upon this contracted horizon was very remarkable.
There was not a cloud nor a vapor to catch the tints of the declining beams;
the surface of the ice did not, as a liquid sea would, reflect the last green
ray of light; but the radiant orb, enlarged by the effect of refraction,
its circumference sharply defined against the sky, sank abruptly, as though
a trap had been opened in the ice for its reception.
Before the daylight ended. Captain Servadac had cautioned
the party to collect themselves betimes into one group.
"Unless you are sure of your whereabouts before dark," he said,
"you will not find it after. We have come out like a party
of skirmishers; let us go back in full force."
The night would be dark; their moon was in conjunction, and would not be seen;
the stars would only give something of that "pale radiance" which the poet
Corneille has described.
Immediately after sunset the torches were lighted, and the long
series of flames, fanned by the rapid motion of their bearers,
had much the appearance of an enormous fiery banner. An hour later,
and the volcano appeared like a dim shadow on the horizon, the light
from the crater shedding a lurid glare upon the surrounding gloom.
In time the glow of the burning lava, reflected in the icy mirror,
fell upon the troop of skaters, and cast their lengthened shadows
grotesquely on the surface of the frozen sea.
Later still, half an hour or more afterwards, the torches were
all but dying out. The shore was close at hand. All at once,
Ben Zoof uttered a startled cry, and pointed with bewildered
excitement towards the mountain. Involuntarily, one and all,
they plowed their heels into the ice and came to a halt.
Exclamations of surprise and horror burst from every lip.
The volcano was extinguished! The stream of burning lava had
suddenly ceased to flow!
Speechless with amazement, they stood still for some moments.
There was not one of them that did not realize, more or less,
how critical was their position. The sole source of the heat that had
enabled them to brave the rigor of the cold had failed them! death,
in the cruellest of all shapes, seemed staring them in the face--
death from cold! Meanwhile, the last torch had flickered out.
It was quite dark.
"Forward!" cried Servadac, firmly.
At the word of command they advanced to the shore; clambered with no
little difficulty up the slippery rocks; gained the mouth of the gallery;
groped their way into the common hall.
How dreary! how chill it seemed!
The fiery cataract no longer spread its glowing covering over the mouth
of the grotto. Lieutenant Procope leaned through the aperture.
The pool, hitherto kept fluid by its proximity to the lava,
was already encrusted with a layer of ice.
Such was the end of the New Year's Day so happily begun.
THE BOWELS OF THE COMET
The whole night was spent in speculating, with gloomy forebodings, upon the
chances of the future. The temperature of the hall, now entirely exposed
to the outer air, was rapidly falling, and would quickly become unendurable.
Far too intense was the cold to allow anyone to remain at the opening,
and the moisture on the walls soon resolved itself into icicles. But the
mountain was like the body of a dying man, that retains awhile a certain
amount of heat at the heart after the extremities have become cold and dead.
In the more interior galleries there was still a certain degree of warmth,
and hither Servadac and his companions were glad enough to retreat.
Here they found the professor, who, startled by the sudden cold,
had been fain to make a precipitate retreat from his observatory.
Now would have been the opportunity to demand of the enthusiast whether
he would like to prolong his residence indefinitely upon his little comet.
It is very likely that he would have declared himself ready to put up with
any amount of discomfort to be able to gratify his love of investigation;
but all were far too disheartened and distressed to care to banter him
upon the subject on which he was so sensitive.
Next morning, Servadac thus addressed his people.
"My friends, except from cold, we have nothing to fear.
Our provisions are ample--more than enough for the remaining
period of our sojourn in this lone world of ours; our preserved
meat is already cooked; we shall be able to dispense with all
fuel for cooking purposes. All that we require is warmth--
warmth for ourselves; let us secure that, and all may be well.
Now, I do not entertain a doubt but that the warmth we require
is resident in the bowels of this mountain on which we are living;
to the depth of those bowels we must penetrate; there we shall
obtain the warmth which is indispensable to our very existence."
His tone, quite as much as his words, restored confidence to many
of his people, who were already yielding to a feeling of despair.
The count and the lieutenant fervently, but silently, grasped his hand.
"Nina," said the captain, "you will not be afraid to go down to the lower
depths of the mountain, will you?"
"Not if Pablo goes," replied the child.
"Oh yes, of course, Pablo will go. You are not afraid to go,
are you, Pablo?" he said, addressing the boy.
"Anywhere with you, your Excellency," was the boy's prompt reply.
And certain it was that no time must be lost in penetrating below
the heart of the volcano; already the most protected of the many
ramifications of Nina's Hive were being pervaded by a cold that
was insufferable. It was an acknowledged impossibility to get access
to the crater by the exterior declivities of the mountain-side;
they were far too steep and too slippery to afford a foothold.
It must of necessity be entered from the interior.
Lieutenant Procope accordingly undertook the task of exploring all
the galleries, and was soon able to report that he had discovered one
which he had every reason to believe abutted upon the central funnel.
His reason for coming to this conclusion was that the caloric emitted
by the rising vapors of the hot lava seemed to be oozing, as it were, out of
the tellurium, which had been demonstrated already to be a conductor of heat.
Only succeed in piercing through this rock for seven or eight yards,
and the lieutenant did not doubt that his way would be opened into the old
lava-course, by following which he hoped descent would be easy.
Under the lieutenant's direction the Russian sailors were
immediately set to work. Their former experience had convinced
them that spades and pick-axes were of no avail, and their
sole resource was to proceed by blasting with gunpowder.
However skillfully the operation might be carried on,
it must necessarily occupy several days, and during that time
the sufferings from cold must be very severe.
"If we fail in our object, and cannot get to the depths of the mountain,
our little colony is doomed," said Count Timascheff.
"That speech is not like yourself," answered Servadac, smiling.
"What has become of the faith which has hitherto carried you
so bravely through all our difficulties?"
The count shook his head, as if in despair, and said, sadly, "The Hand
that has hitherto been outstretched to help seems now to be withdrawn."
"But only to test our powers of endurance," rejoined the captain, earnestly.
"Courage, my friend, courage! Something tells me that this cessation
of the eruption is only partial; the internal fire is not all extinct.
All is not over yet. It is too soon to give up; never despair!"
Lieutenant Procope quite concurred with the captain.
Many causes, he knew, besides the interruption of the influence
of the oxygen upon the mineral substances in Gallia's interior,
might account for the stoppage of the lava-flow in this one
particular spot, and he considered it more than probable that a
fresh outlet had been opened in some other part of the surface,
and that the eruptive matter had been diverted into the new channel.
But at present his business was to prosecute his labors
so that a retreat might be immediately effected from their
now untenable position.
Restless and agitated, Professor Rosette, if he took any
interest in these discussions, certainly took no share in them.
He had brought his telescope down from the observatory into
the common hall, and there at frequent intervals, by night
and by day, he would endeavor to continue his observations;
but the intense cold perpetually compelled him to desist,
or he would literally have been frozen to death.
No sooner, however, did he find himself obliged to retreat
from his study of the heavens, than he would begin overwhelming
everybody about him with bitter complaints, pouring out his
regrets that he had ever quitted his quarters at Formentera.
On the 4th of January, by persevering industry, the process
of boring was completed, and the lieutenant could hear that
fragments of the blasted rock, as the sailors cleared them away
with their spades, were rolling into the funnel of the crater.
He noticed, too, that they did not fall perpendicularly,
but seemed to slide along, from which he inferred that the sides
of the crater were sloping; he had therefore reason to hope
that a descent would be found practicable.
Larger and larger grew the orifice; at length it would admit a man's body,
and Ben Zoof, carrying a torch, pushed himself through it, followed by
the lieutenant and Servadac. Procope's conjecture proved correct.
On entering the crater, they found that the sides slanted at the angle
of about 4 degrees ; moreover, the eruption had evidently been of
recent origin, dating probably only from the shock which had invested
Gallia with a proportion of the atmosphere of the earth, and beneath
the coating of ashes with which they were covered, there were various
irregularities in the rock, not yet worn away by the action of the lava,
and these afforded a tolerably safe footing.
"Rather a bad staircase!" said Ben Zoof, as they began to make
their way down.
In about half an hour, proceeding in a southerly direction,
they had descended nearly five hundred feet. From time
to time they came upon large excavations that at first sight
had all the appearance of galleries, but by waving his torch,
Ben Zoof could always see their extreme limits, and it was
evident that the lower strata of the mountain did not present
the same system of ramification that rendered the Hive above
so commodious a residence.
It was not a time to be fastidious; they must be satisfied
with such accommodation as they could get, provided it was warm.
Captain Servadac was only too glad to find that his hopes
about the temperature were to a certain extent realized.
The lower they went, the greater was the diminution in the cold,
a diminution that was far more rapid than that which is
experienced in making the descent of terrestrial mines.
In this case it was a volcano, not a colliery, that was
the object of exploration, and thankful enough they were
to find that it had not become extinct. Although the lava,
from some unknown cause, had ceased to rise in the crater,
yet plainly it existed somewhere in an incandescent state,
and was still transmitting considerable heat to inferior strata.
Lieutenant Procope had brought in his hand a mercurial thermometer,
and Servadac carried an aneroid barometer, by means of which he could estimate
the depth of their descent below the level of the Gallian Sea. When they
were six hundred feet below the orifice the mercury registered a temperature
of 6 degrees below zero.
"Six degrees!" said Servadac; "that will not suit us.
At this low temperature we could not survive the winter.
We must try deeper down. I only hope the ventilation
will hold out."
There was, however, nothing to fear on the score of ventilation.
The great current of air that rushed into the aperture penetrated everywhere,
and made respiration perfectly easy.
The descent was continued for about another three hundred feet,
which brought the explorers to a total depth of nine hundred feet from
their old quarters. Here the thermometer registered 12 degrees above zero--
a temperature which, if only it were permanent, was all they wanted.
There was no advantage in proceeding any further along the lava-course;
they could already hear the dull rumblings that indicated that they
were at no great distance from the central focus.
"Quite near enough for me!" exclaimed Ben Zoof. "Those who
are chilly are welcome to go as much lower as they like.
For my part, I shall be quite warm enough here."
After throwing the gleams of torch-light in all directions,
the explorers seated themselves on a jutting rock,
and began to debate whether it was practicable for the colony
to make an abode in these lower depths of the mountain.
The prospect, it must be owned, was not inviting. The crater,
it is true, widened out into a cavern sufficiently large,
but here its accommodation ended. Above and below were a few
ledges in the rock that would serve as receptacles for provisions;
but, with the exception of a small recess that must be reserved
for Nina, it was clear that henceforth they must all renounce
the idea of having separate apartments. The single cave must
be their dining-room, drawing-room, and dormitory, all in one.
From living the life of rabbits in a warren, they were reduced
to the existence of moles, with the difference that they could not,
like them, forget their troubles in a long winter's sleep.
The cavern, however, was quite capable of being lighted