“In Algeria, captain?”
“Yes, Ben Zoof, in Algeria; and not far from Mostaganem.” Such were the first words which, after their return to consciousness, were exchanged between Servadac and his orderly.
They had resided so long in the province that they could not for a moment be mistaken as to their whereabouts, and although they were incapable of clearing up the mysteries that shrouded the miracle, yet they were convinced at the first glance that they had been returned to the earth at the very identical spot where they had quitted it.
In fact, they were scarcely more than a mile from Mostaganem, and in the course of an hour, when they had all recovered from the bewilderment occasioned by the shock, they started off in a body and made their way to the town. It was a matter of extreme surprise to find no symptom of the least excitement anywhere as they went along. The population was perfectly calm; every one was pursuing his ordinary avocation; the cattle were browsing quietly upon the pastures that were moist with the dew of an ordinary January morning. It was about eight o’clock; the sun was rising in the east; nothing could be noticed to indicate that any abnormal incident had either transpired or been expected by the inhabitants. As to a collision with a comet, there was not the faintest trace of any such phenomenon crossing men’s minds, and awakening, as it surely would, a panic little short of the certified approach of the millennium.
“Nobody expects us,” said Servadac; “that is very certain.”
“No, indeed,” answered Ben Zoof, with a sigh; he was manifestly disappointed that his return to Mostaganem was not welcomed with a triumphal reception.
They reached the Mascara gate. The first persons that Servadac recognized were the two friends that he had invited to be his seconds in the duel two years ago, the colonel of the 2nd Fusiliers and the captain of the 8th Artillery. In return to his somewhat hesitating salutation, the colonel greeted him heartily, “Ah! Servadac, old fellow! is it you?”
“I, myself,” said the captain.
“Where on earth have you been to all this time? In the name of peace, what have you been doing with yourself?”
“You would never believe me, colonel,” answered Servadac, “if I were to tell you; so on that point I had better hold my tongue.”
“Hang your mysteries!” said the colonel; “tell me, where have you been?”
“No, my friend, excuse me,” replied Servadac; “but shake hands with me in earnest, that I may be sure I am not dreaming.” Hector Servadac had made up his mind, and no amount of persuasion could induce him to divulge his incredible experiences.
Anxious to turn the subject, Servadac took the earliest opportunity of asking, “And what about Madame de L——?”
“Madame de L——-!” exclaimed the colonel, taking the words out of his mouth; “the lady is married long ago; you did not suppose that she was going to wait for you. ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ you know.”
“True,” replied Servadac; and turning to the count he said, “Do you hear that? We shall not have to fight our duel after all.”
“Most happy to be excused,” rejoined the count. The rivals took each other by the hand, and were united henceforth in the bonds of a sincere and confiding friendship.
“An immense relief,” said Servadac to himself, “that I have no occasion to finish that confounded rondo!”
It was agreed between the captain and the count that it would be desirable in every way to maintain the most rigid silence upon the subject of the inexplicable phenomena which had come within their experience. It was to them both a subject of the greatest perplexity to find that the shores of the Mediterranean had undergone no change, but they coincided in the opinion that it was prudent to keep their bewilderment entirely to themselves. Nothing induced them to break their reserve.
The very next day the small community was broken up.
The Dobryna’s crew, with the count and the lieutenant, started for Russia, and the Spaniards, provided, by the count’s liberality, with a competency that ensured them from want, were despatched to their native shores. The leave taking was accompanied by genuine tokens of regard and goodwill.
For Isaac Hakkabut alone there was no feeling of regret. Doubly ruined by the loss of his tartan, and by the abandonment of his fortune, he disappeared entirely from the scene. It is needless to say that no one troubled himself to institute a search after him, and, as Ben Zoof sententiously remarked, “Perhaps old Jehoram is making money in America by exhibiting himself as the latest arrival from a comet!”
But however great was the reserve which Captain Servadac might make on his part, nothing could induce Professor Rosette to conceal his experiences. In spite of the denial which astronomer after astronomer gave to the appearance of such a comet as Gallia at all, and of its being refused admission to the catalogue, he published a voluminous treatise, not only detailing his own adventures, but setting forth, with the most elaborate precision, all the elements which settled its period and its orbit. Discussions arose in scientific circles; an overwhelming majority decided against the representations of the professor; an unimportant minority declared themselves in his favor, and a pamphlet obtained some degree of notice, ridiculing the whole debate under the title of “The History of an Hypothesis.” In reply to this impertinent criticism of his labors, Rosette issued a rejoinder full with the most vehement expressions of indignation, and reiterating his asseveration that a fragment of Gibraltar was still traversing the regions of space, carrying thirteen Englishmen upon its surface, and concluding by saying that it was the great disappointment of his life that he had not been taken with them.
Pablo and little Nina were adopted, the one by Servadac, the other by the count, and under the supervision of their guardians, were well educated and cared for. Some years later, Colonel, no longer Captain, Servadac, his hair slightly streaked with grey, had the pleasure of seeing the handsome young Spaniard united in marriage to the Italian, now grown into a charming girl, upon whom the count bestowed an ample dowry; the young people’s happiness in no way marred by the fact that they had not been destined, as once seemed likely, to be the Adam and Eve of a new world.
The career of the comet was ever a mystery which neither Servadac nor his orderly could eliminate from the regions of doubt. Anyhow, they were firmer and more confiding friends than ever.
One day, in the environs of Montmartre, where they were secure from eavesdroppers, Ben Zoof incidentally referred to the experiences in the depths of Nina’s Hive; but stopped short and said, “However, those things never happened, sir, did they?”
His master could only reply, “Confound it, Ben Zoof! What is a man to believe?”