Off on a Comet

Page 08

It was two hours after the catastrophe that Captain Servadac regained consciousness; he had some trouble to collect his thoughts, and the first sounds that escaped his lips were the concluding words of the rondo which had been so ruthlessly interrupted; "Constant ever I will be, Constant . . . ."

His next thought was to wonder what had happened; and in order to find an answer, he pushed aside the broken thatch, so that his head appeared above the _debris_. "The gourbi leveled to the ground!" he exclaimed, "surely a waterspout has passed along the coast."

He felt all over his body to perceive what injuries he had sustained, but not a sprain nor a scratch could he discover. "Where are you, Ben Zoof?" he shouted.

"Here, sir!" and with military promptitude a second head protruded from the rubbish.

"Have you any notion what has happened, Ben Zoof?"

"I've a notion, captain, that it's all up with us."

"Nonsense, Ben Zoof; it is nothing but a waterspout!"

"Very good, sir," was the philosophical reply, immediately followed by the query, "Any bones broken, sir?"

"None whatever," said the captain.

Both men were soon on their feet, and began to make a vigorous clearance of the ruins, beneath which they found that their arms, cooking utensils, and other property, had sustained little injury.

"By-the-by, what o'clock is it?" asked the captain.

"It must be eight o'clock, at least," said Ben Zoof, looking at the sun, which was a considerable height above the horizon. "It is almost time for us to start."

"To start! what for?"

"To keep your appointment with Count Timascheff."

"By Jove! I had forgotten all about it!" exclaimed Servadac. Then looking at his watch, he cried, "What are you thinking of, Ben Zoof? It is scarcely two o'clock."

"Two in the morning, or two in the afternoon?" asked Ben Zoof, again regarding the sun.

Servadac raised his watch to his ear. "It is going," said he; "but, by all the wines of Medoc, I am puzzled. Don't you see the sun is in the west? It must be near setting."

"Setting, captain! Why, it is rising finely, like a conscript at the sound of the reveille. It is considerably higher since we have been talking."

Incredible as it might appear, the fact was undeniable that the sun was rising over the Shelif from that quarter of the horizon behind which it usually sank for the latter portion of its daily round. They were utterly bewildered. Some mysterious phenomenon must not only have altered the position of the sun in the sidereal system, but must even have brought about an important modification of the earth's rotation on her axis.

Captain Servadac consoled himself with the prospect of reading an explanation of the mystery in next week's newspapers, and turned his attention to what was to him of more immediate importance. "Come, let us be off," said he to his orderly; "though heaven and earth be topsy-turvy, I must be at my post this morning."

"To do Count Timascheff the honor of running him through the body," added Ben Zoof.

If Servadac and his orderly had been less preoccupied, they would have noticed that a variety of other physical changes besides the apparent alteration in the movement of the sun had been evolved during the atmospheric disturbances of that New Year's night. As they descended the steep footpath leading from the cliff towards the Shelif, they were unconscious that their respiration became forced and rapid, like that of a mountaineer when he has reached an altitude where the air has become less charged with oxygen. They were also unconscious that their voices were thin and feeble; either they must themselves have become rather deaf, or it was evident that the air had become less capable of transmitting sound.

The weather, which on the previous evening had been very foggy, had entirely changed. The sky had assumed a singular tint, and was soon covered with lowering clouds that completely hid the sun. There were, indeed, all the signs of a coming storm, but the vapor, on account of the insufficient condensation, failed to fall.

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Off on a Comet Page 09

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