Off on a Comet

Page 53

Once satisfied that Servadac and his friends would cooperate with him in the raid upon "the thieves," Ben Zoof became calm and content, and began to make various inquiries. "And what has become," he said, "of all our old comrades in Africa?"

"As far as I can tell you," answered the captain, "they are all in Africa still; only Africa isn't by any means where we expected to find it."

"And France? Montmartre?" continued Ben Zoof eagerly. Here was the cry of the poor fellow's heart.

As briefly as he could, Servadac endeavored to explain the true condition of things; he tried to communicate the fact that Paris, France, Europe, nay, the whole world was more than eighty millions of leagues away from Gourbi Island; as gently and cautiously as he could he expressed his fear that they might never see Europe, France, Paris, Montmartre again.

"No, no, sir!" protested Ben Zoof emphatically; "that is all nonsense. It is altogether out of the question to suppose that we are not to see Montmartre again." And the orderly shook his head resolutely, with the air of a man determined, in spite of argument, to adhere to his own opinion.

"Very good, my brave fellow," replied Servadac, "hope on, hope while you may. The message has come to us over the sea, 'Never despair'; but one thing, nevertheless, is certain; we must forthwith commence arrangements for making this island our permanent home."

Captain Servadac now led the way to the gourbi, which, by his servant's exertions, had been entirely rebuilt; and here he did the honors of his modest establishment to his two guests, the count and the lieutenant, and gave a welcome, too, to little Nina, who had accompanied them on shore, and between whom and Ben Zoof the most friendly relations had already been established.

The adjacent building continued in good preservation, and Captain Servadac's satisfaction was very great in finding the two horses, Zephyr and Galette, comfortably housed there and in good condition.

After the enjoyment of some refreshment, the party proceeded to a general consultation as to what steps must be taken for their future welfare. The most pressing matter that came before them was the consideration of the means to be adopted to enable the inhabitants of Gallia to survive the terrible cold, which, in their ignorance of the true eccentricity of their orbit, might, for aught they knew, last for an almost indefinite period. Fuel was far from abundant; of coal there was none; trees and shrubs were few in number, and to cut them down in prospect of the cold seemed a very questionable policy; but there was no doubt some expedient must be devised to prevent disaster, and that without delay.

The victualing of the little colony offered no immediate difficulty. Water was abundant, and the cisterns could hardly fail to be replenished by the numerous streams that meandered along the plains; moreover, the Gallian Sea would ere long be frozen over, and the melted ice (water in its congealed state being divested of every particle of salt) would afford a supply of drink that could not be exhausted. The crops that were now ready for the harvest, and the flocks and herds scattered over the island, would form an ample reserve. There was little doubt that throughout the winter the soil would remain unproductive, and no fresh fodder for domestic animals could then be obtained; it would therefore be necessary, if the exact duration of Gallia's year should ever be calculated, to proportion the number of animals to be reserved to the real length of the winter.

The next thing requisite was to arrive at a true estimate of the number of the population. Without including the thirteen Englishmen at Gibraltar, about whom he was not particularly disposed to give himself much concern at present, Servadac put down the names of the eight Russians, the two Frenchman, and the little Italian girl, eleven in all, as the entire list of the inhabitants of Gourbi Island.

"Oh, pardon me," interposed Ben Zoof, "you are mistaking the state of the case altogether.

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Off on a Comet Page 54

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Jules Verne

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