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Book II Jules Verne

A Journey And A Disappointment

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"Too late, sir, do you think?" said Ben Zoof.

"Yes, Ben Zoof; if that's a telegraph--and there is no doubt of it-- somebody has been before us and erected it; and, moreover, if it is moving, there must be somebody working it now."

He was keenly disappointed. Looking towards the north, he could distinguish Gibraltar faintly visible in the extreme distance, and upon the summit of the rock both Ben Zoof and himself fancied they could make out another semaphore, giving signals, no doubt, in response to the one here.

"Yes, it is only too clear; they have already occupied it, and established their communications," said Servadac.

"And what are we to do, then?" asked Ben Zoof.

"We must pocket our chagrin, and put as good a face on the matter as we can," replied the captain.

"But perhaps there are only four or five Englishmen to protect the place," said Ben Zoof, as if meditating an assault.

"No, no, Ben Zoof," answered Servadac; "we must do nothing rash. We have had our warning, and, unless our representations can induce them to yield their position, we must resign our hope."

Thus discomfited, they had reached the foot of the rock, when all at once, like a "Jack-in-the-box," a sentinel started up before them with the challenge:

"Who goes there?"

"Friends. Vive la France!" cried the captain.

"Hurrah for England!" replied the soldier.

By this time four other men had made their appearance from the upper part of the rock.

"What do you want?" asked one of them, whom Servadac remembered to have seen before at Gibraltar.

"Can I speak to your commanding officer?" Servadac inquired.

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"Which?" said the man. "The officer in command of Ceuta?"

"Yes, if there is one."

"I will acquaint him with your arrival," answered the Englishman, and disappeared.

In a few minutes the commanding officer, attired in full uniform, was seen descending to the shore. It was Major Oliphant himself.

Servadac could no longer entertain a doubt that the Englishmen had forestalled him in the occupation of Ceuta. Provisions and fuel had evidently been conveyed thither in the boat from Gibraltar before the sea had frozen, and a solid casemate, hollowed in the rock, had afforded Major Oliphant and his contingent ample protection from the rigor of the winter. The ascending smoke that rose above the rock was sufficient evidence that good fires were still kept up; the soldiers appeared to have thriven well on what, no doubt, had been a generous diet, and the major himself, although he would scarcely have been willing to allow it, was slightly stouter than before.

Being only about twelve miles distant from Gibraltar, the little garrison at Ceuta had felt itself by no means isolated in its position; but by frequent excursions across the frozen strait, and by the constant use of the telegraph, had kept up their communication with their fellow-countrymen on the other island. Colonel Murphy and the major had not even been forced to forego the pleasures of the chessboard. The game that had been interrupted by Captain Servadac's former visit was not yet concluded; but, like the two American clubs that played their celebrated game in 1846 between Washington and Baltimore, the two gallant officers made use of the semaphore to communicate their well-digested moves.

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Off on a Comet
Jules Verne

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