Off on a Comet

Page 39

"Captain Servadac, who accompanies me," continued the count, "has been most severely tried by the disaster. Engaged as he was in an important mission as a staff-officer in Algeria--"

"A French colony, I believe," interposed Major Oliphant, half shutting his eyes with an expression of supreme indifference.

Servadac was on the point of making some cutting retort, but Count Timascheff, without allowing the interruption to be noticed, calmly continued his narrative:

"It was near the mouth of the Shelif that a portion of Africa, on that eventful night, was transformed into an island which alone survived; the rest of the vast continent disappeared as completely as if it had never been."

The announcement seemed by no means startling to the phlegmatic colonel.

"Indeed!" was all he said.

"And where were you?" asked Major Oliphant.

"I was out at sea, cruising in my yacht; hard by; and I look upon it as a miracle, and nothing less, that I and my crew escaped with our lives."

"I congratulate you on your luck," replied the major.

The count resumed: "It was about a month after the great disruption that I was sailing--my engine having sustained some damage in the shock-- along the Algerian coast, and had the pleasure of meeting with my previous acquaintance, Captain Servadac, who was resident upon the island with his orderly, Ben Zoof."

"Ben who?" inquired the major.

"Zoof! Ben Zoof!" ejaculated Servadac, who could scarcely shout loud enough to relieve his pent-up feelings.

Ignoring this ebullition of the captain's spleen, the count went on to say: "Captain Servadac was naturally most anxious to get what news he could. Accordingly, he left his servant on the island in charge of his horses, and came on board the _Dobryna_ with me. We were quite at a loss to know where we should steer, but decided to direct our course to what previously had been the east, in order that we might, if possible, discover the colony of Algeria; but of Algeria not a trace remained."

The colonel curled his lip, insinuating only too plainly that to him it was by no means surprising that a French colony should be wanting in the element of stability. Servadac observed the supercilious look, and half rose to his feet, but, smothering his resentment, took his seat again without speaking.

"The devastation, gentlemen," said the count, who persistently refused to recognize the Frenchman's irritation, "everywhere was terrible and complete. Not only was Algeria lost, but there was no trace of Tunis, except one solitary rock, which was crowned by an ancient tomb of one of the kings of France--"

"Louis the Ninth, I presume," observed the colonel.

"Saint Louis," blurted out Servadac, savagely.

Colonel Murphy slightly smiled.

Proof against all interruption, Count Timascheff, as if he had not heard it, went on without pausing. He related how the schooner had pushed her way onwards to the south, and had reached the Gulf of Cabes; and how she had ascertained for certain that the Sahara Sea had no longer an existence.

The smile of disdain again crossed the colonel's face; he could not conceal his opinion that such a destiny for the work of a Frenchman could be no matter of surprise.

"Our next discovery," continued the count, "was that a new coast had been upheaved right along in front of the coast of Tripoli, the geological formation of which was altogether strange, and which extended to the north as far as the proper place of Malta."

"And Malta," cried Servadac, unable to control himself any longer; "Malta--town, forts, soldiers, governor, and all--has vanished just like Algeria."

For a moment a cloud rested upon the colonel's brow, only to give place to an expression of decided incredulity.

"The statement seems highly incredible," he said.

"Incredible?" repeated Servadac. "Why is it that you doubt my word?"

The captain's rising wrath did not prevent the colonel from replying coolly, "Because Malta belongs to England."

"I can't help that," answered Servadac, sharply; "it has gone just as utterly as if it had belonged to China."

Colonel Murphy turned deliberately away from Servadac, and appealed to the count: "Do you not think you may have made some error, count, in reckoning the bearings of your yacht?"

"No, colonel, I am quite certain of my reckonings; and not only can I testify that Malta has disappeared, but I can affirm that a large section of the Mediterranean has been closed in by a new continent. After the most anxious investigation, we could discover only one narrow opening in all the coast, and it is by following that little channel that we have made our way hither.

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