To the general population of the colony the arrival of the stranger was a matter of small interest. The Spaniards were naturally too indolent to be affected in any way by an incident that concerned themselves so remotely; while the Russians felt themselves simply reliant on their master, and as long as they were with him were careless as to where or how they spent their days. Everything went on with them in an accustomed routine; and they lay down night after night, and awoke to their avocations morning after morning, just as if nothing extraordinary had occurred.
All night long Ben Zoof would not leave the professor’s bedside. He had constituted himself sick nurse, and considered his reputation at stake if he failed to set his patient on his feet again. He watched every movement, listened to every breath, and never failed to administer the strongest cordials upon the slightest pretext. Even in his sleep Rosette’s irritable nature revealed itself. Ever and again, sometimes in a tone of uneasiness, and sometimes with the expression of positive anger, the name of Gallia escaped his lips, as though he were dreaming that his claim to the discovery of the comet was being contested or denied; but although his attendant was on the alert to gather all he could, he was able to catch nothing in the incoherent sentences that served to throw any real light upon the problem that they were all eager to solve.
When the sun reappeared on the western horizon the professor was still sound asleep; and Ben Zoof, who was especially anxious that the repose which promised to be so beneficial should not be disturbed, felt considerable annoyance at hearing a loud knocking, evidently of some blunt heavy instrument against a door that had been placed at the entrance of the gallery, more for the purpose of retaining internal warmth than for guarding against intrusion from without.
“Confound it!” said Ben Zoof. “I must put a stop to this;” and he made his way towards the door.
“Who’s there?” he cried, in no very amiable tone.
“I.” replied the quavering voice.
“Who are you?”
“Isaac Hakkabut. Let me in; do, please, let me in.”
“Oh, it is you, old Ashtaroth, is it? What do you want? Can’t you get anybody to buy your stuffs?”
“Nobody will pay me a proper price.”
“Well, old Shimei, you won’t find a customer here. You had better be off.”
“No; but do, please—do, please, let me in,” supplicated the Jew. “I want to speak to his Excellency, the governor.”
“The governor is in bed, and asleep.”
“I can wait until he awakes.”
“Then wait where you are.”
And with this inhospitable rejoinder the orderly was about to return to his place at the side of his patient, when Servadac, who had been roused by the sound of voices, called out, “What’s the matter, Ben Zoof?”
“Oh, nothing, sir; only that hound of a Hakkabut says he wants to speak to you.”
“Let him in, then.”
Ben Zoof hesitated.
“Let him in, I say,” repeated the captain, peremptorily.
However reluctantly, Ben Zoof obeyed. The door was unfastened, and Isaac Hakkabut, enveloped in an old overcoat, shuffled into the gallery. In a few moments Servadac approached, and the Jew began to overwhelm him with the most obsequious epithets. Without vouchsafing any reply, the captain beckoned to the old man to follow him, and leading the way to the central hall, stopped, and turning so as to look him steadily in the face, said, “Now is your opportunity. Tell me what you want.”
“Oh, my lord, my lord,” whined Isaac, “you must have some news to tell me.”
“News? What do you mean?”
“From my little tartan yonder, I saw the yawl go out from the rock here on a journey, and I saw it come back, and it brought a stranger; and I thought—I thought—I thought—”
“Well, you thought—what did you think?”
“Why, that perhaps the stranger had come from the northern shores of the Mediterranean, and that I might ask him—”
He paused again, and gave a glance at the captain.
“Ask him what? Speak out, man?”
“Ask him if he brings any tidings of Europe,” Hakkabut blurted out at last.
Servadac shrugged his shoulders in contempt and turned away. Here was a man who had been resident three months in Gallia, a living witness of all the abnormal phenomena that had occurred, and yet refusing to believe that his hope of making good bargains with European traders was at an end. Surely nothing, thought the captain, will convince the old rascal now; and he moved off in disgust. The orderly, however, who had listened with much amusement, was by no means disinclined for the conversation to be continued. “Are you satisfied, old Ezekiel?” he asked.
“Isn’t it so? Am I not right? Didn’t a stranger arrive here last night?” inquired the Jew.
“Yes, quite true.”
“From the Balearic Isles.”
“The Balearic Isles?” echoed Isaac.
“Fine quarters for trade! Hardly twenty leagues from Spain! He must have brought news from Europe!”
“Well, old Manasseh, what if he has?”
“I should like to see him.”
The Jew sidled close up to Ben Zoof, and laying his hand on his arm, said in a low and insinuating tone, “I am poor, you know; but I would give you a few reals if you would let me talk to this stranger.”
But as if he thought he was making too liberal an offer, he added, “Only it must be at once.”
“He is too tired; he is worn out; he is fast asleep,” answered Ben Zoof.
“But I would pay you to wake him.”
The captain had overheard the tenor of the conversation, and interposed sternly, “Hakkabut! if you make the least attempt to disturb our visitor, I shall have you turned outside that door immediately.”
“No offense, my lord, I hope,” stammered out the Jew. “I only meant—”
“Silence!” shouted Servadac. The old man hung his head, abashed.
“I will tell you what,” said Servadac after a brief interval; “I will give you leave to hear what this stranger has to tell as soon as he is able to tell us anything; at present we have not heard a word from his lips.”
The Jew looked perplexed.
“Yes,” said Servadac; “when we hear his story, you shall hear it too.”
“And I hope it will be to your liking, old Ezekiel!” added Ben Zoof in a voice of irony.
They had none of them long to wait, for within a few minutes Rosette’s peevish voice was heard calling, “Joseph! Joseph!”
The professor did not open his eyes, and appeared to be slumbering on, but very shortly afterwards called out again, “Joseph! Confound the fellow! where is he?” It was evident that he was half dreaming about a former servant now far away on the ancient globe. “Where’s my blackboard, Joseph?”
“Quite safe, sir,” answered Ben Zoof, quickly.
Rosette unclosed his eyes and fixed them full upon the orderly’s face. “Are you Joseph?” he asked.
“At your service, sir,” replied Ben Zoof with imperturbable gravity.
“Then get me my coffee, and be quick about it.”
Ben Zoof left to go into the kitchen, and Servadac approached the professor in order to assist him in rising to a sitting posture.
“Do you recognize your quondam pupil, professor?” he asked.
“Ah, yes, yes; you are Servadac,” replied Rosette. “It is twelve years or more since I saw you; I hope you have improved.”
“Quite a reformed character, sir, I assure you,” said Servadac, smiling.
“Well, that’s as it should be; that’s right,” said the astronomer with fussy importance. “But let me have my coffee,” he added impatiently; “I cannot collect my thoughts without my coffee.”
Fortunately, Ben Zoof appeared with a great cup, hot and strong. After draining it with much apparent relish, the professor got out of bed, walked into the common hall, round which he glanced with a pre-occupied air, and proceeded to seat himself in an armchair, the most comfortable which the cabin of the Dobryna had supplied. Then, in a voice full of satisfaction, and that involuntarily recalled the exclamations of delight that had wound up the two first of the mysterious documents that had been received, he burst out, “Well, gentlemen, what do you think of Gallia?”
There was no time for anyone to make a reply before Isaac Hakkabut had darted forward.
“By the God—”
“Who is that?” asked the startled professor; and he frowned, and made a gesture of repugnance.
Regardless of the efforts that were made to silence him, the Jew continued, “By the God of Abraham, I beseech you, give me some tidings of Europe!”
“Europe?” shouted the professor, springing from his seat as if he were electrified; “what does the man want with Europe?”
“I want to get there!” screeched the Jew; and in spite of every exertion to get him away, he clung most tenaciously to the professor’s chair, and again and again implored for news of Europe.
Rosette made no immediate reply. After a moment or two’s reflection, he turned to Servadac and asked him whether it was not the middle of April.
“It is the twentieth,” answered the captain.
“Then to-day,” said the astronomer, speaking with the greatest deliberation—“to-day we are just three millions of leagues away from Europe.”
The Jew was utterly crestfallen.
“You seem here,” continued the professor, “to be very ignorant of the state of things.”
“How far we are ignorant,” rejoined Servadac, “I cannot tell. But I will tell you all that we do know, and all that we have surmised.” And as briefly as he could, he related all that had happened since the memorable night of the thirty-first of December; how they had experienced the shock; how the Dobryna had made her voyage; how they had discovered nothing except the fragments of the old continent at Tunis, Sardinia, Gibraltar, and now at Formentera; how at intervals the three anonymous documents had been received; and, finally, how the settlement at Gourbi Island had been abandoned for their present quarters at Nina’s Hive.
The astronomer had hardly patience to hear him to the end. “And what do you say is your surmise as to your present position?” he asked.
“Our supposition,” the captain replied, “is this. We imagine that we are on a considerable fragment of the terrestrial globe that has been detached by collision with a planet to which you appear to have given the name of Gallia.”
“Better than that!” cried Rosette, starting to his feet with excitement.
“How? Why? What do you mean?” cried the voices of the listeners.
“You are correct to a certain degree,” continued the professor. “It is quite true that at 47′ 35.6” after two o’clock on the morning of the first of January there was a collision; my comet grazed the earth; and the bits of the earth which you have named were carried clean away.”
They were all fairly bewildered.
“Where, then,” cried Servadac eagerly, “where are we?”
“You are on my comet, on Gallia itself!”
And the professor gazed around him with a perfect air of triumph.