Off on a Comet

Page 35

"This is all very peculiar, Sir John," observed the colonel.

"Yes, colonel; very peculiar," replied the major.

"England will be sure to send for us," said one officer.

"No doubt she will," answered the other.

Accordingly, they came to the mutual resolution that they would "stick to their post."

To say the truth, it would have been a difficult matter for the gallant officers to do otherwise; they had but one small boat; therefore, it was well that they made a virtue of necessity, and resigned themselves to patient expectation of the British ship which, in due time, would bring relief.

They had no fear of starvation. Their island was mined with subterranean stores, more than ample for thirteen men--nay, for thirteen Englishmen-- for the next five years at least. Preserved meat, ale, brandy--all were in abundance; consequently, as the men expressed it, they were in this respect "all right."

Of course, the physical changes that had taken place had attracted the notice both of officers and men. But the reversed position of east and west, the diminution of the force of gravity, the altered rotation of the earth, and her projection upon a new orbit, were all things that gave them little concern and no uneasiness; and when the colonel and the major had replaced the pieces on the board which had been disturbed by the convulsion, any surprise they might have felt at the chess-men losing some portion of their weight was quite forgotten in the satisfaction of seeing them retain their equilibrium.

One phenomenon, however, did not fail to make its due impression upon the men; this was the diminution in the length of day and night. Three days after the catastrophe, Corporal Pim, on behalf of himself and his comrades, solicited a formal interview with the officers. The request having been granted, Pim, with the nine soldiers, all punctiliously wearing the regimental tunic of scarlet and trousers of invisible green, presented themselves at the door of the colonel's room, where he and his brother-officer were continuing their game. Raising his hand respectfully to his cap, which he wore poised jauntily over his right ear, and scarcely held on by the strap below his under lip, the corporal waited permission to speak.

After a lingering survey of the chess-board, the colonel slowly lifted his eyes, and said with official dignity, "Well, men, what is it?"

"First of all, sir," replied the corporal, "we want to speak to you about our pay, and then we wish to have a word with the major about our rations."

"Say on, then," said Colonel Murphy. "What is it about your pay?"

"Just this, sir; as the days are only half as long as they were, we should like to know whether our pay is to be diminished in proportion."

The colonel was taken somewhat aback, and did not reply immediately, though by some significant nods towards the major, he indicated that he thought the question very reasonable. After a few moments' reflection, he replied, "It must, I think, be allowed that your pay was calculated from sunrise to sunrise; there was no specification of what the interval should be. Your pay will continue as before. England can afford it."

A buzz of approval burst involuntarily from all the men, but military discipline and the respect due to their officers kept them in check from any boisterous demonstration of their satisfaction.

"And now, corporal, what is your business with me?" asked Major Oliphant.

"We want to know whether, as the days are only six hours long, we are to have but two meals instead of four?"

The officers looked at each other, and by their glances agreed that the corporal was a man of sound common sense.

"Eccentricities of nature," said the major, "cannot interfere with military regulations. It is true that there will be but an interval of an hour and a half between them, but the rule stands good-- four meals a day. England is too rich to grudge her soldiers any of her soldiers' due. Yes; four meals a day."

"Hurrah!" shouted the soldiers, unable this time to keep their delight within the bounds of military decorum; and, turning to the right-about, they marched away, leaving the officers to renew the all-absorbing game.

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