Off on a Comet

Page 59

"A fine haul, lieutenant," said the captain.

"Yes, indeed," said the lieutenant; "but what if the owner refuses to part with it?"

"No fear; no fear," replied the captain. "As soon as ever the old rascal finds that there are no more Arabs or Algerians for him to fleece, he will be ready enough to transact a little business with us. We will pay him by bills of acceptance on some of his old friends in the Old World."

"But why should he want any payment?" inquired the lieutenant. "Under the circumstances, he must know that you have a right to make a requisition of his goods."

"No, no," quickly rejoined Servadac; "we will not do that. Just because the fellow is a German we shall not be justified in treating him in German fashion. We will transact our business in a business way. Only let him once realize that he is on a new globe, with no prospect of getting back to the old one, and he will be ready enough to come to terms with us."

"Perhaps you are right," replied the lieutenant; "I hope you are. But anyhow, it will not do to leave the tartan here; not only would she be in danger in the event of a storm, but it is very questionable whether she could resist the pressure of the ice, if the water were to freeze."

"Quite true, Procope; and accordingly I give you the commission to see that your crew bring her round to the Shelif as soon as may be."

"To-morrow morning it shall be done," answered the lieutenant, promptly.

Upon returning to the shore, it was arranged that the whole of the little colony should forthwith assemble at the gourbi. The Spaniards were summoned and Isaac, although he could only with reluctance take his wistful gaze from his tartan, obeyed the governor's orders to follow.

An hour later and the entire population of twenty-two had met in the chamber adjoining the gourbi. Young Pablo made his first acquaintance with little Nina, and the child seemed highly delighted to find a companion so nearly of her own age. Leaving the children to entertain each other, Captain Servadac began his address.

Before entering upon further explanation, he said that he counted upon the cordial co-operation of them all for the common welfare.

Negrete interrupted him by declaring that no promises or pledges could be given until he and his countrymen knew how soon they could be sent back to Spain.

"To Spain, do you say?" asked Servadac.

"To Spain!" echoed Isaac Hakkabut, with a hideous yell. "Do they expect to go back to Spain till they have paid their debts? Your Excellency, they owe me twenty reals apiece for their passage here; they owe me two hundred reals. Are they to be allowed . . . ?"

"Silence, Mordecai, you fool!" shouted Ben Zoof, who was accustomed to call the Jew by any Hebrew name that came uppermost to his memory. "Silence!"

Servadac was disposed to appease the old man's anxiety by promising to see that justice was ultimately done; but, in a fever of frantic excitement, he went on to implore that he might have the loan of a few sailors to carry his ship to Algiers.

"I will pay you honestly; I will pay you _well_," he cried; but his ingrained propensity for making a good bargain prompted him to add, "provided you do not overcharge me."

Ben Zoof was about again to interpose some angry exclamation; but Servadac checked him, and continued in Spanish: "Listen to me, my friends. Something very strange has happened. A most wonderful event has cut us off from Spain, from France, from Italy, from every country of Europe. In fact, we have left the Old World entirely. Of the whole earth, nothing remains except this island on which you are now taking refuge. The old globe is far, far away. Our present abode is but an insignificant fragment that is left. I dare not tell you that there is any chance of your ever again seeing your country or your homes."

He paused. The Spaniards evidently had no conception of his meaning.

Negrete begged him to tell them all again. He repeated all that he had said, and by introducing some illustrations from familiar things, he succeeded to a certain extent in conveying some faint idea of the convulsion that had happened. The event was precisely what he had foretold.

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Off on a Comet Page 60

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