Off on a Comet

Page 30

The island had all the appearance of being deserted, nor did a cannon-shot fired from the schooner have the effect of bringing any resident to the shore. Nevertheless, it was undeniable that there was a stone building situated on the top of the rock, and that this building had much the character of an Arabian mosque.

The boat was lowered and manned by the four sailors; Servadac, Timascheff and Procope were quickly rowed ashore, and lost no time in commencing their ascent of the steep acclivity. Upon reaching the summit, they found their progress arrested by a kind of wall, or rampart of singular construction, its materials consisting mainly of vases, fragments of columns, carved bas-reliefs, statues, and portions of broken stelae, all piled promiscuously together without any pretense to artistic arrangement. They made their way into the enclosure, and finding an open door, they passed through and soon came to a second door, also open, which admitted them to the interior of the mosque, consisting of a single chamber, the walls of which were ornamented in the Arabian style by sculptures of indifferent execution. In the center was a tomb of the very simplest kind, and above the tomb was suspended a large silver lamp with a capacious reservoir of oil, in which floated a long lighted wick, the flame of which was evidently the light that had attracted Servadac's attention on the previous night.

"Must there not have been a custodian of the shrine?" they mutually asked; but if such there had ever been, he must, they concluded, either have fled or have perished on that eventful night. Not a soul was there in charge, and the sole living occupants were a flock of wild cormorants which, startled at the entrance of the intruders, rose on wing, and took a rapid flight towards the south.

An old French prayer-book was lying on the corner of the tomb; the volume was open, and the page exposed to view was that which contained the office for the celebration of the 25th of August. A sudden revelation dashed across Servadac's mind. The solemn isolation of the island tomb, the open breviary, the ritual of the ancient anniversary, all combined to apprise him of the sanctity of the spot upon which he stood.

"The tomb of St. Louis!" he exclaimed, and his companions involuntarily followed his example, and made a reverential obeisance to the venerated monument.

It was, in truth, the very spot on which tradition asserts that the canonized monarch came to die, a spot to which for six centuries and more his countrymen had paid the homage of a pious regard. The lamp that had been kindled at the memorial shrine of a saint was now in all probability the only beacon that threw a light across the waters of the Mediterranean, and even this ere long must itself expire.

There was nothing more to explore. The three together quitted the mosque, and descended the rock to the shore, whence their boat re-conveyed them to the schooner, which was soon again on her southward voyage; and it was not long before the tomb of St. Louis, the only spot that had survived the mysterious shock, was lost to view.

CHAPTER XII

AT THE MERCY OF THE WINDS

As the affrighted cormorants had winged their flight towards the south, there sprang up a sanguine hope on board the schooner that land might be discovered in that direction. Thither, accordingly, it was determined to proceed, and in a few hours after quitting the island of the tomb, the _Dobryna_ was traversing the shallow waters that now covered the peninsula of Dakhul, which had separated the Bay of Tunis from the Gulf of Hammamet. For two days she continued an undeviating course, and after a futile search for the coast of Tunis, reached the latitude of 34 degrees.

Here, on the 11th of February, there suddenly arose the cry of "Land!" and in the extreme horizon, right ahead, where land had never been before, it was true enough that a shore was distinctly to be seen. What could it be? It could not be the coast of Tripoli; for not only

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Off on a Comet Page 31

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Jules Verne

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Jules Verne
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