Off on a Comet

Page 56

One of them was named Negrete, and he, as having traveled somewhat more than the rest, was tacitly recognized as a sort of leader; but although he was by far the most enlightened of them all, he was quite incapable of forming the least conception of the nature of what had occurred. The one thing upon which they could not fail to be conscious was that they had no prospect of obtaining provisions, and consequently their first business was to devise a scheme for getting away from their present abode. The _Hansa_ was lying off shore. The Spaniards would not have had the slightest hesitation in summarily taking possession of her, but their utter ignorance of seamanship made them reluctantly come to the conclusion that the more prudent policy was to make terms with the owner.

And now came a singular part of the story. Negrete and his companions had meanwhile received a visit from two English officers from Gibraltar. What passed between them the Jew did not know; he only knew that, immediately after the conclusion of the interview, Negrete came to him and ordered him to set sail at once for the nearest point of Morocco. The Jew, afraid to disobey, but with his eye ever upon the main chance, stipulated that at the end of their voyage the Spaniards should pay for their passage-- terms to which, as they would to any other, they did not demur, knowing that they had not the slightest intention of giving him a single real.

The _Hansa_ had weighed anchor on the 3rd of February. The wind blew from the west, and consequently the working of the tartan was easy enough. The unpracticed sailors had only to hoist their sails and, though they were quite unconscious of the fact, the breeze carried them to the only spot upon the little world they occupied which could afford them a refuge.

Thus it fell out that one morning Ben Zoof, from his lookout on Gourbi Island, saw a ship, not the _Dobryna_, appear upon the horizon, and make quietly down towards what had formerly been the right bank of the Shelif.

Such was Ben Zoof's version of what had occurred, as he had gathered it from the new-comers. He wound up his recital by remarking that the cargo of the _Hansa_ would be of immense service to them; he expected, indeed, that Isaac Hakkabut would be difficult to manage, but considered there could be no harm in appropriating the goods for the common welfare, since there could be no opportunity now for selling them.

Ben Zoof added, "And as to the difficulties between the Jew and his passengers, I told him that the governor general was absent on a tour of inspection, and that he would see everything equitably settled."

Smiling at his orderly's tactics, Servadac turned to Hakkabut, and told him that he would take care that his claims should be duly investigated and all proper demands should be paid. The man appeared satisfied, and, for the time at least, desisted from his complaints and importunities.

When the Jew had retired, Count Timascheff asked, "But how in the world can you ever make those fellows pay anything?"

"They have lots of money," said Ben Zoof.

"Not likely," replied the count; "when did you ever know Spaniards like them to have lots of money?"

"But I have seen it myself," said Ben Zoof; "and it is English money."

"English money!" echoed Servadac; and his mind again reverted to the excursion made by the colonel and the major from Gibraltar, about which they had been so reticent. "We must inquire more about this," he said.

Then, addressing Count Timascheff, he added, "Altogether, I think the countries of Europe are fairly represented by the population of Gallia."

"True, captain," answered the count; "we have only a fragment of a world, but it contains natives of France, Russia, Italy, Spain, and England. Even Germany may be said to have a representative in the person of this miserable Jew."

"And even in him," said Servadac, "perhaps we shall not find so indifferent a representative as we at present imagine."



The Spaniards who had arrived on board the _Hansa_ consisted of nine men and a lad of twelve years of age, named Pablo.

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