Off on a Comet

Page 50

She told him that she had no parents, and had been employed in taking care of a flock of goats belonging to one of the landowners, when one day, all of a sudden, everything around her, except this little piece of land, had been swallowed up, and that she and Marzy, her pet goat, had been left quite alone. She went on to say that at first she had been very frightened; but when she found that the earth did not shake any more, she had thanked the great God, and had soon made herself very happy living with Marzy. She had enough food, she said, and had been waiting for a boat to fetch her, and now a boat had come and she was quite ready to go away; only they must let her goat go with her: they would both like so much to get back to the old farm.

"Here, at least, is one nice little inhabitant of Gallia," said Captain Servadac, as he caressed the child and conducted her to the boat.

Half an hour later, both Nina and Marzy were safely quartered on board the yacht. It is needless to say that they received the heartiest of welcomes. The Russian sailors, ever superstitious, seemed almost to regard the coming of the child as the appearance of an angel; and, incredible as it may seem, more than one of them wondered whether she had wings, and amongst themselves they commonly referred to her as "the little Madonna."

Soon out of sight of Madalena, the _Dobryna_ for some hours held a southeasterly course along the shore, which here was fifty leagues in advance of the former coast-line of Italy, demonstrating that a new continent must have been formed, substituted as it were for the old peninsula, of which not a vestige could be identified. At a latitude corresponding with the latitude of Rome, the sea took the form of a deep gulf, extending back far beyond the site of the Eternal City; the coast making a wide sweep round to the former position of Calabria, and jutting far beyond the outline of "the boot," which Italy resembles. But the beacon of Messina was not to be discerned; no trace, indeed, survived of any portion of Sicily; the very peak of Etna, 11,000 feet as it had reared itself above the level of the sea, had vanished utterly.

Another sixty leagues to the south, and the _Dobryna_ sighted the entrance of the strait which had afforded her so providential a refuge from the tempest, and had conducted her to the fragmentary relic of Gibraltar. Hence to the Gulf of Cabes had been already explored, and as it was universally allowed that it was unnecessary to renew the search in that direction, the lieutenant started off in a transverse course, towards a point hitherto uninvestigated. That point was reached on the 3rd of March, and thence the coast was continuously followed, as it led through what had been Tunis, across the province of Constantine, away to the oasis of Ziban; where, taking a sharp turn, it first reached a latitude of 32 degrees, and then returned again, thus forming a sort of irregular gulf, enclosed by the same unvarying border of mineral concrete. This colossal boundary then stretched away for nearly 150 leagues over the Sahara desert, and, extending to the south of Gourbi Island, occupied what, if Morocco had still existed, would have been its natural frontier.

Adapting her course to these deviations of the coastline, the _Dobryna_ was steering northwards, and had barely reached the limit of the bay, when the attention of all on board was arrested by the phenomenon of a volcano, at least 3,000 feet high, its crater crowned with smoke, which occasionally was streaked by tongues of flame.

"A burning mountain!" they exclaimed.

"Gallia, then, has some internal heat," said Servadac.

"And why not, captain?" rejoined the lieutenant. "If our asteroid has carried with it a portion of the old earth's atmosphere, why should it not likewise retain something of its central fire?"

"Ah, well!" said the captain, shrugging his shoulders, "I dare say there is caloric enough in our little world to supply the wants of its population."

Count Timascheff interrupted the silence that followed this conversation by saying, "And now, gentlemen, as our course has brought us on our way once more towards Gibraltar, what do you say to our renewing our acquaintance with the Englishmen? They will be interested in the result of our voyage."

"For my part," said Servadac, "I have no desire that way. They know where to find Gourbi Island; they can betake themselves thither just when they please.

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