Off on a Comet

Page 40

England, I fear, has suffered grievously by the late catastrophe. Not only has Malta been entirely lost, but of the Ionian Islands that were under England's protection, there seems to be but little left."

"Ay, you may depend upon it," said Servadac, breaking in upon the conversation petulantly, "your grand resident lord high commissioner has not much to congratulate himself about in the condition of Corfu."

The Englishmen were mystified.

"Corfu, did you say?" asked Major Oliphant.

"Yes, Corfu; I said Corfu," replied Servadac, with a sort of malicious triumph.

The officers were speechless with astonishment.

The silence of bewilderment was broken at length by Count Timascheff making inquiry whether nothing had been heard from England, either by telegraph or by any passing ship.

"No," said the colonel; "not a ship has passed; and the cable is broken."

"But do not the Italian telegraphs assist you?" continued the count.

"Italian! I do not comprehend you. You must mean the Spanish, surely."

"How?" demanded Timascheff.

"Confound it!" cried the impatient Servadac. "What matters whether it be Spanish or Italian? Tell us, have you had no communication at all from Europe?--no news of any sort from London?"

"Hitherto, none whatever," replied the colonel; adding with a stately emphasis, "but we shall be sure to have tidings from England before long."

"Whether England is still in existence or not, I suppose," said Servadac, in a tone of irony.

The Englishmen started simultaneously to their feet.

"England in existence?" the colonel cried. "England! Ten times more probable that France--"

"France!" shouted Servadac in a passion. "France is not an island that can be submerged; France is an integral portion of a solid continent. France, at least, is safe."

A scene appeared inevitable, and Count Timascheff's efforts to conciliate the excited parties were of small avail.

"You are at home here," said Servadac, with as much calmness as he could command; "it will be advisable, I think, for this discussion to be carried on in the open air." And hurriedly he left the room. Followed immediately by the others, he led the way to a level piece of ground, which he considered he might fairly claim as neutral territory.

"Now, gentlemen," he began haughtily, "permit me to represent that, in spite of any loss France may have sustained in the fate of Algeria, France is ready to answer any provocation that affects her honor. Here I am the representative of my country, and here, on neutral ground--"

"Neutral ground?" objected Colonel Murphy; "I beg your pardon. This, Captain Servadac, is English territory. Do you not see the English flag?" and, as he spoke, he pointed with national pride to the British standard floating over the top of the island.

"Pshaw!" cried Servadac, with a contemptuous sneer; "that flag, you know, has been hoisted but a few short weeks."

"That flag has floated where it is for ages," asserted the colonel.

"An imposture!" shouted Servadac, as he stamped with rage.

Recovering his composure in a degree, he continued: "Can you suppose that I am not aware that this island on which we find you is what remains of the Ionian representative republic, over which you English exercise the right of protection, but have no claim of government?"

The colonel and the major looked at each other in amazement.

Although Count Timascheff secretly sympathized with Servadac, he had carefully refrained from taking part in the dispute; but he was on the point of interfering, when the colonel, in a greatly subdued tone, begged to be allowed to speak.

"I begin to apprehend," he said, "that you must be la-boring under some strange mistake. There is no room for questioning that the territory here is England's--England's by right of conquest; ceded to England by the Treaty of Utrecht. Three times, indeed--in 1727, 1779, and 1792-- France and Spain have disputed our title, but always to no purpose. You are, I assure you, at the present moment, as much on English soil as if you were in London, in the middle of Trafalgar Square."

It was now the turn of the captain and the count to look surprised. "Are we not, then, in Corfu?" they asked.

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