"Hang it!" he ejaculated, "whatever induced me to choose this meter? It is as hard to find rhymes as to rally fugitive in a battle. But, by all the powers! it shan't be said that a French officer cannot cope with a piece of poetry. One battalion has fought-- now for the rest!"
Perseverance had its reward. Presently two lines, one red, the other blue, appeared upon the paper, and the captain murmured: "Words, mere words, cannot avail, Telling true heart's tender tale."
"What on earth ails my master?" muttered Ben Zoof; "for the last hour he has been as fidgety as a bird returning after its winter migration."
Servadac suddenly started from his seat, and as he paced the room with all the frenzy of poetic inspiration, read out: "Empty words cannot convey All a lover's heart would say."
"Well, to be sure, he is at his everlasting verses again!" said Ben Zoof to himself, as he roused himself in his corner. "Impossible to sleep in such a noise;" and he gave vent to a loud groan.
"How now, Ben Zoof?" said the captain sharply. "What ails you?"
"Nothing, sir, only the nightmare."
"Curse the fellow, he has quite interrupted me!" ejaculated the captain. "Ben Zoof!" he called aloud.
"Here, sir!" was the prompt reply; and in an instant the orderly was upon his feet, standing in a military attitude, one hand to his forehead, the other closely pressed to his trouser-seam.
"Stay where you are! don't move an inch!" shouted Servadac; "I have just thought of the end of my rondo." And in a voice of inspiration, accompanying his words with dramatic gestures, Servadac began to declaim:
"Listen, lady, to my vows -- O, consent to be my spouse; Constant ever I will be, Constant . . . ."
No closing lines were uttered. All at once, with unutterable violence, the captain and his orderly were dashed, face downwards, to the ground.
A CONVULSION OF NATURE
Whence came it that at that very moment the horizon underwent so strange and sudden a modification, that the eye of the most practiced mariner could not distinguish between sea and sky?
Whence came it that the billows raged and rose to a height hitherto unregistered in the records of science?
Whence came it that the elements united in one deafening crash; that the earth groaned as though the whole framework of the globe were ruptured; that the waters roared from their innermost depths; that the air shrieked with all the fury of a cyclone?
Whence came it that a radiance, intenser than the effulgence of the Northern Lights, overspread the firmament, and momentarily dimmed the splendor of the brightest stars?
Whence came it that the Mediterranean, one instant emptied of its waters, was the next flooded with a foaming surge?
Whence came it that in the space of a few seconds the moon's disc reached a magnitude as though it were but a tenth part of its ordinary distance from the earth?
Whence came it that a new blazing spheroid, hitherto unknown to astronomy, now appeared suddenly in the firmament, though it were but to lose itself immediately behind masses of accumulated cloud?
What phenomenon was this that had produced a cataclysm so tremendous in effect upon earth, sky, and sea?
Was it possible that a single human being could have survived the convulsion? and if so, could he explain its mystery?
A MYSTERIOUS SEA
Violent as the commotion had been, that portion of the Algerian coast which is bounded on the north by the Mediterranean, and on the west by the right bank of the Shelif, appeared to have suffered little change. It is true that indentations were perceptible in the fertile plain, and the surface of the sea was ruffled with an agitation that was quite unusual; but the rugged outline of the cliff was the same as heretofore, and the aspect of the entire scene appeared unaltered. The stone hostelry, with the exception of some deep clefts in its walls, had sustained little injury; but the gourbi, like a house of cards destroyed by an infant's breath, had completely subsided, and its two inmates lay motionless, buried under the sunken thatch.