Page:Amazing Stories Volume 01 Number 01.djvu/35

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33
OFF ON A COMET

derstood that with respect to the original cause of the disruption he had no theory to offer; and although he knew what expansion might be the result of subterranean forces, he did not venture to say that he considered it sufficient to produce so tremendous an effect. The origin of the catastrophe was a problem still to be solved.

"Ah! well," said Servadac, "I don't know that it matters much where our new little planet comes from, or what it is made of, if only it carries France along with it."

"And Russia," added the count.

"And Russia, of course," said Servadac, with a polite bow.

There was, however, not much room for this sanguine expectation, for if a new asteroid had thus been brought into existence, it must be a sphere of extremely limited dimensions, and there could be little chance that it embraced more than the merest fraction of either France or Russia. As to England, the total cessation of all telegraphic communication between her shores and Gibraltar was a virtual proof that England was beyond ita compass.

And what was the true measurement of the new little world? At Gourbi Island the days and nights were of equal length, and this seemed to indicate that it was situated on the equator; hence the distance by which the two poles stood apart would be half what had been reckoned would be the distance completed by the Dobryna in her circuit. That distance had been already estimated to be something under 1,400 miles, so that the Arctic Pole of their recently fashioned world must be about 350 miles to the north, and the Antarctic about 350 miles to the south of the island. Compare these calculations with the map, and it is at once apparent that the northernmost limit barely touched the coast of Provence, while the southernmost reached to about lat. 29° N., and fell in the heart of the desert. The practical test of these conclusions would be made by future investigation, but meanwhile the fact appeared very much to strengthen the presumption that, if Lieutenant Procope had not arrived at the whole truth, he had made a considerable advance towards it.

The weather, ever since the storm that had driven the Dobryna into the creek, had been magnificent. The wind continued favorable, and now under both steam and canvas, she made a rapid progress towards the north, a direction in which she was free to go in consequence of the total disappearance of the Spanish coast, from Gibraltar right away to Alicante. Malaga, Aboeris, Cape Gata, Cartagena. Cape Palos—all were gone. The sea was rolling over the southern extent of the peninsula, so that the yacht advanced to the latitude of Seville before it sighted any land at all, and then, not shores such as the shores of Andalusia, but a bluff and precipitous cliff, in its geological features resembling exactly the stern and barren rock that she had coasted beyond the site of Malta. Here the sea made a decided indentation on the coast; it ran up in an acute-angled triangle till its apex coincided, with the very spot upon which Madrid had stood. But as hitherto the sea had encroached upon the land, the land in its turn now encroached upon the sea; for a frowning headland stood out far into the basin of the Mediterranean, and formed a promontory stretching out beyond the proper places of the Balearic Isles. Curiosity was all alive. There was the intensest interest awakened to determine whether any vestige could be traced of Majorca, Minorca, or any of the group, and it was during a deviation from the direct course for the purpose of a more thorough, scrutiny, that one of the sailors raised a thrill of general excitement by shouting, "A bottle in the sea!"

Here, then, at length was a communication from the outer world. Surely now they would find a document which would throw some light upon all the mysteries that had happened? Had not the day now dawned that should set their speculations all at rest?

It was the morning of the 21st of February. The count, the captain, the lieutenant, everybody hurried to the forecastle; the schooner was dexterously put about, and all was eager impatience until the supposed bottle was hauled on deck.

It was not, however, a bottle; it proved to be a round leather telescope-case, about a foot long, and the first thing to do before investigating its contents was to make a careful examination of its exterior. The lid was fastened on by wax, and so securely that it would take a long immersion before any water could penetrate; there was no maker's name to be deciphered; but impressed very plainly with a seal on the wax were the two initials "P. R."

When the scrutiny of the outside was finished, the wax was removed and the cover opened, and the lieutenant drew out a slip of ruled paper, evidently torn from a common note-book. The paper had an inscription written in four lines, which were remarkable for the profusion of notes of admiration and interrogation with which they were interspersed:

"Gallia???
Ab sole, au 15 fév. 59,000,000 l.!
Chemin parcouru de janv. à fév. 82,000,000 l.!!
Va bene! All right!! Parfait!!!

There was a general sigh of disappointment. They turned the paper over and over, and handed it from one to another. "What does it all mean?" exclaimed the count.

"Something mysterious here!" said Servadac. "But yet," he continued, after a pause, "one thing is tolerably certain: on the 15th, six days ago, someone was alive to write it."

"Yes; I presume there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of the date," assented the count.

To this strange conglomeration of French, English, Italian, and Latin, there was no signature attached; nor was there anything to give a clue as to the locality in which it had been committed to the waves. A telescope-case would probably be the property of some one on board a ship; and the figures obviously referred to the astronomical wonders that had been experienced.

To these general observations Captain Servadac objected that he thought it unlikely that any one on board a ship would use a telescope-case for this purpose, but would be sure to use a bottle as being more secure; and, accordingly, he should rather be inclined to believe that the message had been set afloat by some savant left alone, perchance, upon some isolated coast.

"But, however interesting it might be," obeerved the count, "to know the author of the lines, to us