Off on a Comet

Page 29

The _Dobryna_ now put about and resumed her explorations in a southerly direction. It remained, however, as remarkable as ever how completely throughout the voyage the sea continued to be deserted; all expectations of hailing a vessel bearing news from Europe were entirely falsified, so that more and more each member of the crew began to be conscious of his isolation, and to believe that the schooner, like a second Noah's ark, carried the sole survivors of a calamity that had overwhelmed the earth.

On the 9th of February the _Dobryna_ passed over the site of the city of Dido, the ancient Byrsa--a Carthage, however, which was now more completely destroyed than ever Punic Carthage had been destroyed by Scipio Afri-canus or Roman Carthage by Hassan the Saracen.

In the evening, as the sun was sinking below the eastern horizon, Captain Servadac was lounging moodily against the taffrail. From the heaven above, where stars kept peeping fitfully from behind the moving clouds, his eye wandered mechanically to the waters below, where the long waves were rising and falling with the evening breeze.

All at once, his attention was arrested by a luminous speck straight ahead on the southern horizon. At first, imagining that he was the victim of some spectral illusion, he observed it with silent attention; but when, after some minutes, he became convinced that what he saw was actually a distant light, he appealed to one of the sailors, by whom his impression was fully corroborated. The intelligence was immediately imparted to Count Timascheff and the lieutenant.

"Is it land, do you suppose?" inquired Servadac, eagerly.

"I should be more inclined to think it is a light on board some ship," replied the count.

"Whatever it is, in another hour we shall know all about it," said Servadac.

"No, captain," interposed Lieutenant Procope; "we shall know nothing until to-morrow."

"What! not bear down upon it at once?" asked the count in surprise.

"No, sir; I should much rather lay to and wait till daylight. If we are really near land, I should be afraid to approach it in the dark."

The count expressed his approval of the lieutenant's caution, and thereupon all sail was shortened so as to keep the _Dobryna_ from making any considerable progress all through the hours of night. Few as those hours were, they seemed to those on board as if their end would never come. Fearful lest the faint glimmer should at any moment cease to be visible, Hector Servadac did not quit his post upon the deck; but the light continued unchanged. It shone with about the same degree of luster as a star of the second magnitude, and from the fact of its remaining stationary, Procope became more and more convinced that it was on land and did not belong to a passing vessel.

At sunrise every telescope was pointed with keenest interest towards the center of attraction. The light, of course, had ceased to be visible, but in the direction where it had been seen, and at a distance of about ten miles, there was the distinct outline of a solitary island of very small extent; rather, as the count observed, it had the appearance of being the projecting summit of a mountain all but submerged. Whatever it was, it was agreed that its true character must be ascertained, not only to gratify their own curiosity, but for the benefit of all future navigators. The schooner accordingly was steered directly towards it, and in less than an hour had cast anchor within a few cables' lengths of the shore.

The little island proved to be nothing more than an arid rock rising abruptly about forty feet above the water. It had no outlying reefs, a circumstance that seemed to suggest the probability that in the recent convulsion it had sunk gradually, until it had reached its present position of equilibrium.

Without removing his eye from his telescope, Servadac exclaimed: "There is a habitation on the place; I can see an erection of some kind quite distinctly. Who can tell whether we shall not come across a human being?"

Lieutenant Procope looked doubtful.

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Off on a Comet Page 30

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