Off on a Comet

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However confident everyone upon the island might profess to be that succor would be sent them from their native land-- for Britain never abandons any of her sons--it could not be disguised that that succor was somewhat tardy in making its appearance. Many and various were the conjectures to account for the delay. Perhaps England was engrossed with domestic matters, or perhaps she was absorbed in diplomatic difficulties; or perchance, more likely than all, Northern Europe had received no tidings of the convulsion that had shattered the south. The whole party throve remarkably well upon the liberal provisions of the commissariat department, and if the officers failed to show the same tendency to _embonpoint_ which was fast becoming characteristic of the men, it was only because they deemed it due to their rank to curtail any indulgences which might compromise the fit of their uniform.

On the whole, time passed indifferently well. An Englishman rarely suffers from _ennui_, and then only in his own country, when required to conform to what he calls "the humbug of society"; and the two officers, with their similar tastes, ideas, and dispositions, got on together admirably. It is not to be questioned that they were deeply affected by a sense of regret for their lost comrades, and astounded beyond measure at finding themselves the sole survivors of a garrison of 1,895 men, but with true British pluck and self-control, they had done nothing more than draw up a report that 1,882 names were missing from the muster-roll.

The island itself, the sole surviving fragment of an enormous pile of rock that had reared itself some 1,600 feet above the sea, was not, strictly speaking, the only land that was visible; for about twelve miles to the south there was another island, apparently the very counterpart of what was now occupied by the Englishmen. It was only natural that this should awaken some interest even in the most imperturbable minds, and there was no doubt that the two officers, during one of the rare intervals when they were not absorbed in their game, had decided that it would be desirable at least to ascertain whether the island was deserted, or whether it might not be occupied by some others, like themselves, survivors from the general catastrophe. Certain it is that one morning, when the weather was bright and calm, they had embarked alone in the little boat, and been absent for seven or eight hours. Not even to Corporal Pim did they communicate the object of their excursion, nor say one syllable as to its result, and it could only be inferred from their manner that they were quite satisfied with what they had seen; and very shortly afterwards Major Oliphant was observed to draw up a lengthy document, which was no sooner finished than it was formally signed and sealed with the seal of the 33rd Regiment. It was directed: _To the First Lord of the Admiralty, London,_ and kept in readiness for transmission by the first ship that should hail in sight. But time elapsed, and here was the l8th of February without an opportunity having been afforded for any communication with the British Government.

At breakfast that morning, the colonel observed to the major that he was under the most decided impression that the l8th of February was a royal anniversary; and he went on to say that, although he had received no definite instructions on the subject, he did not think that the peculiar circumstances under which they found themselves should prevent them from giving the day its due military honors.

The major quite concurred; and it was mutually agreed that the occasion must be honored by a bumper of port, and by a royal salute. Corporal Pim must be sent for. The corporal soon made his appearance, smacking his lips, having, by a ready intuition, found a pretext for a double morning ration of spirits.

"The l8th of February, you know, Pim," said the colonel; "we must have a salute of twenty-one guns."

"Very good," replied Pim, a man of few words.

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