MARKET PRICES IN GALLIA
"ALL right!" said Servadac, convinced by the professor's ill humor that the danger was past; "no doubt we are in for a two years' excursion, but fifteen months more will take us back to the earth!"
"And we shall see Montmartre again!" exclaimed Ben Zoof, in excited tones that betrayed his delight in the anticipation.
To use a nautical expression, they had safely "rounded the point," and they had to be congratulated on their successful navigation; for if, under the influence of Jupiter's attraction, the comet had been retarded for a single hour, in that hour the earth would have already traveled 2,500,000 miles from the point where contact would ensue, and many centuries would elapse before such a coincidence would possibly again occur.
On the 1st of November Gallia and Jupiter were 40,000,000 miles apart. It was little more than ten weeks to the 15th of January, when the comet would begin to reapproach the sun. Though light and heat were now reduced to a twenty-fifth part of their terrestrial intensity, so that a perpetual twilight seemed to have settled over Gallia, yet the population felt cheered even by the little that was left, and buoyed up by the hope that they should ultimately regain their proper position with regard to the great luminary, of which the temperature has been estimated as not less than 5,000,000 degrees.
Of the anxiety endured during the last two months Isaac Hakkabut had known nothing. Since the day he had done his lucky stroke of business he had never left the tartan; and after Ben Zoof, on the following day, had returned the steelyard and borrowed cash, receiving back the paper roubles deposited, all communication between the Jew and Nina's Hive had ceased. In the course of the few minute's conversation which Ben Zoof had held with him, he had mentioned that he knew the whole soil of Gallia was made of gold; but the old man, guessing that the orderly was only laughing at him as usual, paid no attention to the remark, and only meditated upon the means he could devise to get every bit of the money in the new world into his own possession. No one grieved over the life of solitude which Hakkabut persisted in leading. Ben Zoof giggled heartily, as he repeatedly observed "it was astonishing how they reconciled themselves to his absence."
The time came, however, when various circumstances prompted him to think he must renew his intercourse with the inhabitants of the Hive. Some of his goods were beginning to spoil, and he felt the necessity of turning them into money, if he would not be a loser; he hoped, moreover, that the scarcity of his commodities would secure very high prices.
It happened, just about this same time, that Ben Zoof had been calling his master's attention to the fact that some of their most necessary provisions would soon be running short, and that their stock of coffee, sugar, and tobacco would want replenishing. Servadac's mind, of course, turned to the cargo on board the Hansa, and he resolved, according to his promise, to apply to the Jew and become a purchaser. Mutual interest and necessity thus conspired to draw Hakkabut and the captain together.
Often and often had Isaac gloated in his solitude over the prospect of first selling a portion of his merchandise for all the gold and silver in the colony. His recent usurious transaction had whetted his appetite. He would next part with some more of his cargo for all the paper money theygive him; but still he should have goods left, and they would want these. Yes, they should have these, too, for promissory notes. Notes would hold good when they got back again to the earth; bills from his Excellency the governor would be good bills; anyhow there would be the sheriff. By the God of Israel! he would get good prices, and he would get fine interest!
Although he did not know it, he was proposing to follow the practice of the Gauls of old, who advanced money on bills for payment in a future life. Hakkabut's "future life," however, was not many months in advance of the present.
Still Hakkabut hesitated to make the first advance, and it was accordingly with much satisfaction that he hailed Captain Servadac's appearance on board the Hansa.
"Hakkabut," said the captain, plunging without further preface into business, "we want some coffee, some tobacco, and other things. I have come to-day to order them, to settle the price, and to-morrow Ben Zoof shall fetch the goods away."
"Merciful heavens!" the Jew began to whine; but Servadac cut him short.
"None of that miserable howling! Business! I am come to buy your goods. I shall pay for them."
"Ah yes, your Excellency," whispered the Jew, his voice trembling like a street beggar. "Don't impose on me. I am poor; I am nearly ruined already."
"Cease your wretched whining!" cried Servadac. "I have told you once, I shall pay for all I buy."
"Ready money?" asked Hakkabut.
"Yes, ready money. What makes you ask?" said the captain, curious to hear what the Jew would say.
"Well, you see—you see, your Excellency," stammered out the Jew, "to give credit to one wouldn't do, unless I gave credit to another. You are solvent—I mean honorable, and his lordship the count is honorable; but maybe—maybe———"
"Well?" said Servadac, waiting, but inclined to kick the old rascal out of his sight.
"I shouldn't like to give credit," he repeated.
"I have not asked for credit. I have told you, you shall have ready money."
"Very good, your Excellency. But how will you pay me?"
"Pay you? Why, we shall pay you in gold and silver and copper, while our money lasts, and when that is gone we shall pay you in bank notes."
"Oh, no paper, no paper!" groaned out the Jew, relapsing into his accustomed whine.
"Nonsense, man!" cried Servadac.
"No paper!" reiterated Hakkabut.
"Why not? Surely you can trust the banks of England, France, and Russia."
"Ah no! I must have gold. Nothing so safe as gold."
"Well then," said the captain, not wanting to lose his temper, "you shall have it your own way; we