Off on a Comet

Page 22

It was now visible in broad daylight. Buonaparte, when under the Directory, once had his attention called to Venus at noon, and immediately hailed it joyfully, recognizing it as his own peculiar star in the ascendant. Captain Servadac, it may well be imagined, did not experience the same gratifying emotion.

On the 20th, the distance between the two bodies had again sensibly diminished. The captain had ceased to be surprised that no vessel had been sent to rescue himself and his companion from their strange imprisonment; the governor general and the minister of war were doubtless far differently occupied, and their interests far otherwise engrossed. What sensational articles, he thought, must now be teeming to the newspapers! What crowds must be flocking to the churches! The end of the world approaching! the great climax close at hand! Two days more, and the earth, shivered into a myriad atoms, would be lost in boundless space!

These dire forebodings, however, were not destined to be realized. Gradually the distance between the two planets began to increase; the planes of their orbits did not coincide, and accordingly the dreaded catastrophe did not ensue. By the 25th, Venus was sufficiently remote to preclude any further fear of collision. Ben Zoof gave a sigh of relief when the captain communicated the glad intelligence.

Their proximity to Venus had been close enough to demonstrate that beyond a doubt that planet has no moon or satellite such as Cassini, Short, Montaigne of Limoges, Montbarron, and some other astronomers have imagined to exist. "Had there been such a satellite," said Servadac, "we might have captured it in passing. But what can be the meaning," he added seriously, "of all this displacement of the heavenly bodies?"

"What is that great building at Paris, captain, with a top like a cap?" asked Ben Zoof.

"Do you mean the Observatory?"

"Yes, the Observatory. Are there not people living in the Observatory who could explain all this?"

"Very likely; but what of that?"

"Let us be philosophers, and wait patiently until we can hear their explanation."

Servadac smiled. "Do you know what it is to be a philosopher, Ben Zoof?" he asked.

"I am a soldier, sir," was the servant's prompt rejoinder, "and I have learnt to know that 'what can't be cured must be endured.'"

The captain made no reply, but for a time, at least, he desisted from puzzling himself over matters which he felt he was utterly incompetent to explain. But an event soon afterwards occurred which awakened his keenest interest.

About nine o'clock on the morning of the 27th, Ben Zoof walked deliberately into his master's apartment, and, in reply to a question as to what he wanted, announced with the utmost composure that a ship was in sight.

"A ship!" exclaimed Servadac, starting to his feet. "A ship! Ben Zoof, you donkey! you speak as unconcernedly as though you were telling me that my dinner was ready."

"Are we not philosophers, captain?" said the orderly.

But the captain was out of hearing.

CHAPTER IX

INQUIRIES UNSATISFIED

Fast as his legs could carry him, Servadac had made his way to the top of the cliff. It was quite true that a vessel was in sight, hardly more than six miles from the shore; but owing to the increase in the earth's convexity, and the consequent limitation of the range of vision, the rigging of the topmasts alone was visible above the water. This was enough, however, to indicate that the ship was a schooner-- an impression that was confirmed when, two hours later, she came entirely in sight.

"The _Dobryna_!" exclaimed Servadac, keeping his eye unmoved at his telescope.

"Impossible, sir!" rejoined Ben Zoof; "there are no signs of smoke."

"The _Dobryna_!" repeated the captain, positively. "She is under sail; but she is Count Timascheff's yacht."

He was right. If the count were on board, a strange fatality was bringing him to the presence of his rival. But no longer now could Servadac regard him in the light of an adversary; circumstances had changed, and all animosity was absorbed in the eagerness with which he hailed the prospect of obtaining some information about the recent startling and inexplicable events. During the twenty-seven days that she had been absent, the _Dobryna_, he conjectured, would have explored the Mediterranean, would very probably have visited Spain, France, or Italy, and accordingly would convey to Gourbi Island some intelligence from one or other of those countries.

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