Off on a Comet

Page 54

You will be surprised to learn that the total of people on the island is double that. It is twenty-two."

"Twenty-two!" exclaimed the captain; "twenty-two people on this island? What do you mean?"

"The opportunity has not occurred," answered Ben Zoof, "for me to tell you before, but I have had company."

"Explain yourself, Ben Zoof," said Servadac. "What company have you had?"

"You could not suppose," replied the orderly, "that my own unassisted hands could have accomplished all that harvest work that you see has been done."

"I confess," said Lieutenant Procope, "we do not seem to have noticed that."

"Well, then," said Ben Zoof, "if you will be good enough to come with me for about a mile, I shall be able to show you my companions. But we must take our guns,"

"Why take our guns?" asked Servadac. "I hope we are not going to fight."

"No, not with men," said Ben Zoof; "but it does not answer to throw a chance away for giving battle to those thieves of birds."

Leaving little Nina and her goat in the gourbi, Servadac, Count Timascheff, and the lieutenant, greatly mystified, took up their guns and followed the orderly. All along their way they made unsparing slaughter of the birds that hovered over and around them. Nearly every species of the feathered tribe seemed to have its representative in that living cloud. There were wild ducks in thousands; snipe, larks, rooks, and swallows; a countless variety of sea-birds--widgeons, gulls, and seamews; beside a quantity of game--quails, partridges, and woodcocks. The sportsmen did their best; every shot told; and the depredators fell by dozens on either hand.

Instead of following the northern shore of the island, Ben Zoof cut obliquely across the plain. Making their progress with the unwonted rapidity which was attributable to their specific lightness, Servadac and his companions soon found themselves near a grove of sycamores and eucalyptus massed in picturesque confusion at the base of a little hill. Here they halted.

"Ah! the vagabonds! the rascals! the thieves!" suddenly exclaimed Ben Zoof, stamping his foot with rage.

"How now? Are your friends the birds at their pranks again?" asked the captain.

"No, I don't mean the birds: I mean those lazy beggars that are shirking their work. Look here; look there!" And as Ben Zoof spoke, he pointed to some scythes, and sickles, and other implements of husbandry that had been left upon the ground.

"What is it you mean?" asked Servadac, getting somewhat impatient.

"Hush, hush! listen!" was all Ben Zoof's reply; and he raised his finger as if in warning.

Listening attentively, Servadac and his associates could distinctly recognize a human voice, accompanied by the notes of a guitar and by the measured click of castanets.

"Spaniards!" said Servadac.

"No mistake about that, sir," replied Ben Zoof; "a Spaniard would rattle his castanets at the cannon's mouth."

"But what is the meaning of it all?" asked the captain, more puzzled than before.

"Hark!" said Ben Zoof; "it is the old man's turn."

And then a voice, at once gruff and harsh, was heard vociferating, "My money! my money! when will you pay me my money? Pay me what you owe me, you miserable majos."

Meanwhile the song continued: _"Tu sandunga y cigarro, Y una cana de Jerez, Mi jamelgo y un trabuco, Que mas gloria puede haver?"_

Servadac's knowledge of Gascon enabled him partially to comprehend the rollicking tenor of the Spanish patriotic air, but his attention was again arrested by the voice of the old man growling savagely, "Pay me you shall; yes, by the God of Abraham, you shall pay me."

"A Jew!" exclaimed Servadac.

"Ay, sir, a German Jew," said Ben Zoof.

The party was on the point of entering the thicket, when a singular spectacle made them pause. A group of Spaniards had just begun dancing their national fandango, and the extraordinary lightness which had become the physical property of every object in the new planet made the dancers bound to a height of thirty feet or more into the air, considerably above the tops of the trees. What followed was irresistibly comic.

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Off on a Comet Page 55

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