Page:Amazing Stories Volume 01 Number 02.djvu/83

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178
AMAZING STORIES

the surface of the soil, and had it not been for the necessity of obtaining fresh water, it seemed almost probable that no one would ever have made an effort to leave the cavern at all.

A few excursions were made in the downward direction. The three leaders, with Ben Zoof, made their way to the lower depths of the crater, not with the design of making any further examination as to the nature of the rock—for although it might be true enough that it contained thirty per cent. of gold, it was as valueless to them as granite—but with the intention of ascertaining whether the subterranean fire still retained its activity. Satisfied upon this point, they came to the conclusion that the eruption which had so suddenly ceased in one spot had certainly broken out in another.

February, March, April, May, passed wearily by; but day succeeded to day with such gloomy sameness that it was little wonder that no notice was taken of the lapse of time. The people seemed rather to vegetate than to live, and their want of vigor became at times almost alarming. The readings around the long table ceased to be attractive, and the debates, sustained by few, became utterly wanting in animation. The Spaniards could hardly be roused to quit their beds, and seemed to have scarcely energy enough to eat. The Russians, constitutionally of more enduring temperament, did not give way to the same extent, but the long and drear confinement was beginning to tell upon them all. Servadac, the count, and the lieutenant all knew well enough that it was the want of air and exercise that was the cause of much of this mental depression; but what could they do? The most serious remonstrances on their part were entirely in vain. In fact, they themselves occasionally fell a prey to the same lassitude both of body and mind. Long fits of drowsiness, combined with an utter aversion to food, would come over them. It almost seemed as if their entire nature had become degenerate, and that, like tortoises, they could sleep and fast till the return of summer.

Strange to say, little Nina bore her hardships more bravely than any of them. Flitting about, coaxing one to eat, another to drink, rousing Pablo as often as he seemed yielding to the common languor, the child became the life of the party. Her merry prattle enlivened the gloom of the grim cavern like the sweet notes of a bird; her gay Italian songs broke the monotony of the depressing silence; and almost unconscious as the half-dormant population of Gallia were of her influence, they would have missed her bright presence sorely. The months glided on; how, it seemed impossible for the inhabitants of the living tomb to say. There was a dead level of dullness.

At the beginning of June the general torpor appeared slightly to relax its hold upon its victims. This partial revival was probably due to the somewhat increased influence of the sun, still far, far away. During the first half of the Gallian year, Lieutenant Procope had taken careful note of Rosette's monthly announcements of the comet's progress, and he was able now, without reference to the professor, to calculate the rate of advance on its way back towards the sun. He found that Gallia had recrossed the orbit of Jupiter, but was still at the enormous distance of 197,000,000 leagues from the sun, and he reckoned that in about four months it would have entered the zone of the telescopic planets.

Gradually, but uninterruptedly, life and spirits continued to revive, and by the end of the month Servadac and his little colony had regained most of their ordinary physical and mental energies. Ben Zoof, in particular, roused himself with redoubled vigor, like a giant refreshed from his slumbers. The visits, consequently, to the long-neglected galleries of Nina's Hive became more and more frequent.

One day an excursion was made to the shore. It was still bitterly cold, but the atmosphere had lost nothing of its former stillness, and not a cloud was visible from horizon to zenith. The old footmarks were all as distinct as on the day in which they had been imprinted, and the only portion of the shore where any change was apparent was in the little creek. Here the elevation of the ice had gone on increasing, until the schooner and the tartan had been uplifted to a height of 150 feet, not only rendering them quite inaccessible, but exposing them to all but certain destruction in the event of a thaw.

Isaac Hakkabut, immovable from the personal oversight of his property in the cavern, had not accompanied the party, and consequently was in blissful ignorance of the fate that threatened his vessel. "A good thing the old fellow wasn't there to see," observed Ben Zoof; "he would have screamed like a peacock. What a misfortune it is," he added, speaking to himself, "to have a peacock's voice, without its plumage!"

During the months of July and August, Gallia advanced 164,000,000 leagues along her orbit. At night the cold was still intense, but in the daytime the sun, here full upon the equator, caused an appreciable difference of 20° in the temperature. Like birds, the population spent whole days exposed to its grateful warmth, rarely returning till nightfall to the shade of their gloomy home.

This spring-time, if such it may be called, had a most enlivening influence upon all. Hope and courage revived as day by day the sun's disc expanded in the sky, and every evening the earth assumed a greater magnitude among the fixed stars. It was distant yet, but the goal was cheeringly in view.

"I can't believe that yonder little speck of light contains my mountain of Montmartre," said Ben Zoof, one night, after he had been gazing long and steadily at the far-off world.

"You will, I hope, some day find out that it does," answered his master.

"I hope so," said the orderly, without moving his eye from the distant sphere. After meditating a while, he spoke again. "I suppose Professor Rosette couldn't make his comet go straight back, could he?"

"Hush!" cried Servadac.

Ben Zoof understood the correction.

"No," continued the captain; "it is not for man to disturb the order of the universe. That belongs to a Higher Power than ours!"


CHAPTER XIV

THE PROFESSOR PERPLEXED

ANOTHER month passed away, and it was now September, but it was still impossible to leave the warmth of the subterranean retreat for the more airy and commodious quarters of the Hive, where "the bees" would certainly have been frozen to death in their cells. It was altogether quite as much a matter of congratulation as of regret that