the downhill route to make the labor proceed with incredible briskness.
Although Professor Rosette yielded to the pressure of circumstances, and allowed himself to be conducted to the lower regions, nothing would induce him to allow his telescope to be carried underground; and as it was undeniable that it would certainly be of no service deep down in the bowels of the mountain, it was allowed to remain undisturbed upon its tripod in the great hall of Nina's Hive.
As for Isaac Hakkabut, his outcry was beyond description lamentable. Never, in the whole universe, had a merchant met with such reverses; never had such a pitiable series of losses befallen an unfortunate man. Regardless of the ridicule which his abject wretchedness excited, he howled on still, and kept up an unending wail; but meanwhile he kept a keen eye upon every article of his property, and amidst universal laughter insisted on having every item registered in an inventory as it was transferred to its appointed place of safety. Servadac considerately allowed the whole cargo to be deposited in a hollow apart by itself, over which the Jew was permitted to keep a watch as vigilant as he pleased.
By the 10th the removal was accomplished. Rescued, at all events, from the exposure to a perilous temperature of 60° below zero, the community was installed in its new home. The large cave was lighted by the Dobryna's lamps, while several lanterns, suspended at intervals along the acclivity that led to their deserted quarters above, gave a weird picturesqueness to the scene, that might vie with any of the graphic descriptions of the "Arabian Nights' Entertainments."
"How do you like this, Nina?" said Ben Zoof.
"Va bene!" replied the child. "We are only living in the cellars instead of upon the ground floor."
"We will try and make ourselves comfortable," said the orderly.
"Oh yes, we will be happy here," rejoined the child; "it is nice and warm."
Although they were as careful as they could to conceal their misgivings from the rest, Servadac and his two friends could not regard their present situation without distrust. When alone, they would frequently ask each other what would become of them all, if the volcanic heat should really be subsiding, or if some unexpected perturbation should retard the course of the comet and compel them to an indefinitely prolonged residence in their grim abode. It was scarcely likely that the comet could supply the fuel of which ere long they would be in urgent need. Who could expect to find coal in the bowels of Gallia,—coal, which is the residuum of ancient forests mineralized by the lapse of ages? Would not the lava-cinders exhumed from the extinct volcano be their last poor resource?
"Keep up your spirits, my friends," said Servadac; "we have plenty of time before us at present. Let us hope that as fresh difficulties arise, fresh ways of escape will open. Never despair!"
"True," said the count; "it is an old saying that 'Necessity is the mother of invention.' Besides, I should think it very unlikely that the internal heat will fail us now before the summer."
The lieutenant declared that he entertained the same hope. As the reason for his opinion he alleged that the combustion of the eruptive matter was most probably of quite recent origin, because the comet before its collision with the earth had possessed no atmosphere, and that consequently no oxygen could have penetrated to its interior.
"Most likely you are right," replied the count; "and so far from dreading a failure of the internal heat, I am not quite sure that we may not be exposed to a more terrible calamity still?"
"What?" asked Servadac.
"The calamity of the eruption breaking out suddenly again, and taking us by surprise."
"Heavens!" cried the captain, "we will not think of that."
"The outbreak may happen again," said the lieutenant, calmly; "but it will be our fault, our lack of vigilance, if we are taken by surprise." And so the conversation dropped.
The 15th of January dawned; and the comet was 220,000,000 leagues from the sun.
Gallia had reached its aphelion.
HENCEFORTH, then, with a velocity ever increasing, Gallia would re-approach the sun. Except the thirteen Englishmen who had been left at Gibraltar, every living creature had taken refuge in the dark abyss of the volcano's crater.
And with those Englishmen, how had it fared?
"Far better than with ourselves," was the sentiment that would have been universally accepted in Nina's Hive. And there was every reason to conjecture that so it was. The party at Gibraltar, they all agreed, would not, like themselves, have been compelled to have recourse to a stream of lava for their supply of heat; they, no doubt, had had abundance of fuel as well as food; and in their solid casemate, with its substantial walls, they would find ample shelter from the rigor of the cold. The time would have been passed at least in comfort, and perhaps in contentment; and Colonel Murphy and Major Oliphant would have had leisure more than sufficient for solving the most abstruse problems of the chess-board. All of them, too, would be happy in the confidence that when the time should come, England would have full meed of praise to award to the gallant soldiers who had adhered so well and so manfully to their post.
It did, indeed, more than once occur to the minds both of Servadac and his friends that, if their condition should become one of extreme emergency, they might, as a last resource, betake themselves to Gibraltar, and there seek a refuge; but their former reception had not been of the kindest, and they were little disposed to renew an acquaintanceship that was marked by so little cordiality—not that they expected to meet with any inhospitable rebuff. Far from that; they knew well enough that Englishmen, whatever their faults, would be the last to abandon their fellow-creatures in the hour of distress. Nevertheless, unless the necessity became far more urgent than it had hitherto proved, they resolved to endeavor to remain in their present quarters. Up till this time no casualties had diminished their original number, but to undertake so long a journey across that unsheltered expanse of ice could scarcely fail to result in the loss of some of their party.