Off on a Comet

Page 45

"I confess," said the lieutenant, "that just at present I am not able to clear away the uncertainty of the future; but I feel confident that by careful observation at various points we shall arrive at conclusions which not only will determine our path, but perhaps may clear up the mystery about our geological structure."

"Allow me to ask," said Count Timascheff, "whether such a new asteroid would not be subject to ordinary mechanical laws, and whether, once started, it would not have an orbit that must be immutable?"

"Decidedly it would, so long as it was undisturbed by the attraction of some considerable body; but we must recollect that, compared to the great planets, Gallia must be almost infinitesimally small, and so might be attracted by a force that is irresistible."

"Altogether, then," said Servadac, "we seem to have settled it to our entire satisfaction that we must be the population of a young little world called Gallia. Perhaps some day we may have the honor of being registered among the minor planets."

"No chance of that," quickly rejoined Lieutenant Procope. "Those minor planets all are known to rotate in a narrow zone between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter; in their perihelia they cannot approximate the sun as we have done; we shall not be classed with them."

"Our lack of instruments," said the count, "is much to be deplored; it baffles our investigations in every way."

"Ah, never mind! Keep up your courage, count!" said Servadac, cheerily.

And Lieutenant Procope renewed his assurances that he entertained good hopes that every perplexity would soon be solved.

"I suppose," remarked the count, " that we cannot attribute much importance to the last line: _'Va bene! All right!!_ Parfait!!!'"

The captain answered, "At least, it shows that whoever wrote it had no murmuring or complaint to make, but was quite content with the new order of things."

CHAPTER XVI

THE RESIDUUM OF A CONTINENT

Almost unconsciously, the voyagers in the _Dobryna_ fell into the habit of using Gallia as the name of the new world in which they became aware they must be making an extraordinary excursion through the realms of space. Nothing, however, was allowed to divert them from their ostensible object of making a survey of the coast of the Mediterranean, and accordingly they persevered in following that singular boundary which had revealed itself to their extreme astonishment.

Having rounded the great promontory that had barred her farther progress to the north, the schooner skirted its upper edge. A few more leagues and they ought to be abreast of the shores of France. Yes, of France.

But who shall describe the feelings of Hector Servadac when, instead of the charming outline of his native land, he beheld nothing but a solid boundary of savage rock? Who shall paint the look of consternation with which he gazed upon the stony rampart--rising perpendicularly for a thousand feet-- that had replaced the shores of the smiling south? Who shall reveal the burning anxiety with which he throbbed to see beyond that cruel wall?

But there seemed no hope. Onwards and onwards the yacht made her way, and still no sign of France. It might have been supposed that Servadac's previous experiences would have prepared him for the discovery that the catastrophe which had overwhelmed other sites had brought destruction to his own country as well. But he had failed to realize how it might extend to France; and when now he was obliged with his own eyes to witness the waves of ocean rolling over what once had been the lovely shores of Provence, he was well-nigh frantic with desperation.

"Am I to believe that Gourbi Island, that little shred of Algeria, constitutes all that is left of our glorious France? No, no; it cannot be. Not yet have we reached the pole of our new world. There is--there must be--something more behind that frowning rock. Oh, that for a moment we could scale its towering height and look beyond! By Heaven, I adjure you, let us disembark, and mount the summit and explore! France lies beyond."

Disembarkation, however, was an utter impossibility.

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