Who could expect otherwise than that, with the prospect before him of viewing the giant among planets, ten times nearer than any mortal eye had ever done, he should have begrudged every moment that distracted his attention?
Meanwhile, as Jupiter grew large, the sun grew small.
From its increased remoteness the diameter of the sun's disc was diminished to 5' 46".
And what increased interest began to be associated with the satellites! They were visible to the naked eye! Was it not a new record in the annals of science?
Although it is acknowledged that they are not ordinarily visible on earth without the aid of a somewhat powerful telescope, it has been asserted that a favored few, endued with extraordinary powers of vision, have been able to identify them with an unassisted eye; but here, at least, in Nina's Hive were many rivals, for everyone could so far distinguish them one from the other as to describe them by their colors. The first was of a dull white shade; the second was blue; the third was white and brilliant; the fourth was orange, at times approaching to a red. It was further observed that Jupiter itself was almost void of scintillation.
Rosette, in his absorbing interest for the glowing glories of the planet, seemed to be beguiled into comparative forgetfulness of the charms of his comet; but no astronomical enthusiasm of the professor could quite allay the general apprehension that some serious collision might be impending.
Time passed on. There was nothing to justify apprehension. The question was continually being asked, "What does the professor really think?"
"Our friend the professor," said Servadac, "is not likely to tell us very much; but we may feel pretty certain of one thing: he would not keep us long in the dark, if he thought we were not going back to the earth again. The greatest satisfaction he could have would be to inform us that we had parted from the earth for ever."
"I trust from my very soul," said the count, "that his prognostications are correct."
"The more I see of him, and the more I listen to him," replied Servadac, "the more I become convinced that his calculations are based on a solid foundation, and will prove correct to the minutest particular."
Ben Zoof here interrupted the conversation. "I have something on my mind," he said.
"Something on your mind? Out with it!" said the captain.
"That telescope!" said the orderly; "it strikes me that that telescope which the old professor keeps pointed up at yonder big sun is bringing it down straight upon us."
The captain laughed heartily.
"Laugh, captain, if you like; but I feel disposed to break the old telescope into atoms."
"Ben Zoof," said Servadac, his laughter exchanged for a look of stern displeasure, "touch that telescope, and you shall swing for it!"
The orderly looked astonished.
"I am governor here," said Servadac.
Ben Zoof knew what his master meant, and to him his master's wish was law.
The interval between the comet and Jupiter was, by the 1st of October, reduced to 43,000,000 miles. The belts all parallel to Jupiter's equator were very distinct in their markings. Those immediately north and south of the equator were a dusky hue; those toward the poles were alternately dark and light; the intervening spaces of the planet's superficies, between edge and edge, being intensely bright. The belts themselves were occasionally broken by spots, which the records of astronomy describe as varying both in form and in extent.
The physiology of belts and spots alike was beyond the astronomer's power to ascertain; and even if he should be destined once again to take his place in an astronomical congress on the earth, he would be just as incapable as ever of determining whether or no they owed their existence to the external accumulation of vapor, or to some internal agency. It would not be Professor Rosette's lot to enlighten his brother savants to any great degree as to the mysteries that are associated with this, which must ever rank as one of the most magnificent amongst the heavenly orbs.
As the comet approached the critical point of its career it cannot be denied that there was an unacknowledged consciousness of alarm. Mutually reserved, though ever courteous, the count and the captain were secretly drawn together by the prospect of a common danger; and as their return to the earth appeared to them to become more and more dubious, they abandoned their views of narrow isolation, and tried to embrace the wider philosophy that acknowledges the credibility of a habitable universe.
But no philosophy could be proof against the common instincts of their humanity; their hearts, their hopes, were set upon their natural home; no speculation, no science, no experience, could induce them to give up their fond and sanguine anticipation that once again they were to come in contact with the earth.
"Only let us escape Jupiter," said Lieutenant Procope, repeatedly, "and we are free from anxiety."
"But would not Saturn lie ahead?" asked Servadac and the count in one breath.
"No!" said Procope; "the orbit of Saturn is remote, and does not come athwart our path. Jupiter is our sole hindrance. Of Jupiter we must say, as William Tell said, 'Once through the ominous pass and all is well.'"
The 15th of October came, the date of the nearest approximation of the comet to the planet. They were only 31,000,000 miles apart. What would now transpire? Would Gallia be diverted from its proper way? or would it hold the course that the astronomer had predicted?
Early next morning the captain ventured to take the count and the lieutenant up to the observatory. The professor was in the worst of tempers.
That was enough. It was enough, without a word, to indicate the course which events had taken. The comet was pursuing an unaltered way.
The astronomer, correct in his prognostications, ought to have been the most proud and contented of philosophers; his pride and contentment were both overshadowed by the certainty that the career of his comet was destined to be so transient, and that it must inevitably once again come into collision with the earth.