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Book II Jules Verne

A Journey And A Disappointment

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The count and the lieutenant both heartily concurred in Servadac's sentiments of humanity and prudence, and all agreed that if the intercourse were to be opened at all, no time could be so suitable as the present, while the surface of the sea presented a smooth and solid footing. After a thaw should set in, neither the yacht nor the tartan could be reckoned on for service, and it would be inexpedient to make use of the steam launch, for which only a few tons of coal had been reserved, just sufficient to convey them to Gourbi Island when the occasion should arise; whilst as to the yawl, which, transformed into a sledge, had performed so successful a trip to Formentera, the absence of wind would make that quite unavailable. It was true that with the return of summer temperature, there would be certain to be a derangement in the atmosphere of Gallia, which would result in wind, but for the present the air was altogether too still for the yawl to have any prospects of making its way to Gibraltar.

The only question remaining was as to the possibility of going on foot. The distance was somewhere about 240 miles. Captain Servadac declared himself quite equal to the undertaking. To skate sixty or seventy miles a day would be nothing, he said, to a practical skater like himself. The whole journey there and back might be performed in eight days. Provided with a compass, a sufficient supply of cold meat, and a spirit lamp, by which he might boil his coffee, he was perfectly sure he should, without the least difficulty, accomplish an enterprise that chimed in so exactly with his adventurous spirit.

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Equally urgent were both the count and the lieutenant to be allowed to accompany him; nay, they even offered to go instead; but Servadac, expressing himself as most grateful for their consideration, declined their offer, and avowed his resolution of taking no other companion than his own orderly.

Highly delighted at his master's decision, Ben Zoof expressed his satisfaction at the prospect of "stretching his legs a bit," declaring that nothing could induce him to permit the captain to go alone. There was no delay. The departure was fixed for the following morning, the 2nd of November.

Although it is not to be questioned that a genuine desire of doing an act of kindness to his fellow-creatures was a leading motive of Servadac's proposed visit to Gibraltar, it must be owned that another idea, confided to nobody, least of all to Count Timascheff, had been conceived in the brain of the worthy Gascon. Ben Zoof had an inkling that his master was "up to some other little game," when, just before starting, he asked him privately whether there was a French tricolor among the stores. "I believe so," said the orderly.

"Then don't say a word to anyone, but fasten it up tight in your knapsack."

Ben Zoof found the flag, and folded it up as he was directed. Before proceeding to explain this somewhat enig-matical conduct of Servadac, it is necessary to refer to a certain physiological fact, coincident but unconnected with celestial phenomena, originating entirely in the frailty of human nature. The nearer that Gallia approached the earth, the more a sort of reserve began to spring up between the captain and Count Timascheff. Though they could not be said to be conscious of it, the remembrance of their former rivalry, so completely buried in oblivion for the last year and ten months, was insensibly recovering its hold upon their minds, and the question was all but coming to the surface as to what would happen if, on their return to earth, the handsome Madame de L---- should still be free. From companions in peril, would they not again be avowed rivals? Conceal it as they would, a coolness was undeniably stealing over an intimacy which, though it could never be called affectionate, had been uniformly friendly and courteous.

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Off on a Comet
Jules Verne

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