Off on a Comet

Page 23

He reckoned, therefore, not only upon ascertaining the extent of the late catastrophe, but upon learning its cause. Count Timascheff was, no doubt, magnanimously coming to the rescue of himself and his orderly.

The wind being adverse, the _Dobryna_ did not make very rapid progress; but as the weather, in spite of a few clouds, remained calm, and the sea was quite smooth, she was enabled to hold a steady course. It seemed unaccountable that she should not use her engine, as whoever was on board, would be naturally impatient to reconnoiter the new island, which must just have come within their view. The probability that suggested itself was that the schooner's fuel was exhausted.

Servadac took it for granted that the _Dobryna_ was endeavoring to put in. It occurred to him, however, that the count, on discovering an island where he had expected to find the mainland of Africa, would not unlikely be at a loss for a place of anchorage. The yacht was evidently making her way in the direction of the former mouth of the Shelif, and the captain was struck with the idea that he would do well to investigate whether there was any suitable mooring towards which he might signal her. Zephyr and Galette were soon saddled, and in twenty minutes had carried their riders to the western extremity of the island, where they both dismounted and began to explore the coast.

They were not long in ascertaining that on the farther side of the point there was a small well-sheltered creek of sufficient depth to accommodate a vessel of moderate tonnage. A narrow channel formed a passage through the ridge of rocks that protected it from the open sea, and which, even in the roughest weather, would ensure the calmness of its waters.

Whilst examining the rocky shore, the captain observed, to his great surprise, long and well-defined rows of seaweed, which undoubtedly betokened that there had been a very considerable ebb and flow of the waters--a thing unknown in the Mediterranean, where there is scarcely any perceptible tide. What, however, seemed most remarkable, was the manifest evidence that ever since the highest flood (which was caused, in all probability, by the proximity of the body of which the huge disc had been so conspicuous on the night of the 31st of December) the phenomenon had been gradually lessening, and in fact was now reduced to the normal limits which had characterized it before the convulsion.

Without doing more than note the circumstance, Servadac turned his entire attention to the _Dobryna_, which, now little more than a mile from shore, could not fail to see and understand his signals. Slightly changing her course, she first struck her mainsail, and, in order to facilitate the movements of her helmsman, soon carried nothing but her two topsails, brigantine and jib. After rounding the peak, she steered direct for the channel to which Servadac by his gestures was pointing her, and was not long in entering the creek. As soon as the anchor, imbedded in the sandy bottom, had made good its hold, a boat was lowered. In a few minutes more Count Timascheff had landed on the island. Captain Servadac hastened towards him.

"First of all, count," he exclaimed impetuously, "before we speak one other word, tell me what has happened."

The count, whose imperturbable composure presented a singular contrast to the French officer's enthusiastic vivacity, made a stiff bow, and in his Russian accent replied: "First of all, permit me to express my surprise at seeing you here. I left you on a continent, and here I have the honor of finding you on an island."

"I assure you, count, I have never left the place."

"I am quite aware of it. Captain Servadac, and I now beg to offer you my sincere apologies for failing to keep my appointment with you."

"Never mind, now," interposed the captain; "we will talk of that by-and-by. First, tell me what has happened."

"The very question I was about to put to you, Captain Servadac."

"Do you mean to say you know nothing of the cause, and can tell me nothing of the extent, of the catastrophe which has transformed this part of Africa into an island?"

"Nothing more than you know yourself."

"But surely, Count Timascheff, you can inform me whether upon the northern shore of the Mediterranean--"

"Are you certain that this is the Mediterranean?" asked the count significantly, and added, "I have discovered no sign of land."

The captain stared in silent bewilderment.

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Off on a Comet Page 24

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