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"Who's there? I have nothing here for anyone. Go away!" Such was the inhospitable greeting with which Isaac Hakkabut received his visitors.

"Hakkabut! do you take us for thieves?" asked Servadac, in tones of stern displeasure.

"Oh, your Excellency, my lord, I did not know that it "was you," whined the Jew, but without emerging any farther from his cabin.

"Now, old Hakkabut, come out of your shell! Come and show the governor proper respect, when he gives you the honor of his company," cried Ben Zoof, who by this time had clambered onto the deck.

After considerable hesitation, but still keeping his hold upon the cabin-door, the Jew made up his mind to step outside. "What do you want?" he inquired, timorously.

"I want a word with you," said Servadac, "but I do not want to stand talking out here in the cold."

Followed by the rest of the party, he proceeded to mount the steps. The Jew trembled from head to foot. "But I cannot let you into my cabin. I am a poor man; I have nothing to give you," he moaned piteously.

"Here he is!" laughed Ben Zoof, contemptuously; "he is beginning his chapter of lamentations over again. But standing out here will never do. Out of the way, old Hakkabut, I say! out of the way!" and, without more ado, he thrust the astonished Jew on one side and opened the door of the cabin.

Servadac, however, declined to enter until he had taken the pains to explain to the owner of the tartan that he had no intention of laying violent hands upon his property, and that if the time should ever come that his cargo was in requisition for the common use, he should receive a proper price for his goods, the same as he would in Europe.

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"Europe, indeed!" muttered the Jew maliciously between his teeth. "European prices will not do for me. I must have Gallian prices-- and of my own fixing, too!"

So large a portion of the vessel had been appropriated to the cargo that the space reserved for the cabin was of most meager dimensions. In one corner of the compartment stood a small iron stove, in which smoldered a bare handful of coals; in another was a trestle-board which served as a bed; two or three stools and a rickety deal table, together with a few cooking utensils, completed a stock of furniture which was worthy of its proprietor.

On entering the cabin, Ben Zoof's first proceeding was to throw on the fire a liberal supply of coals, utterly regardless of the groans of poor Isaac, who would almost as soon have parted with his own bones as submit to such reckless expenditure of his fuel. The perishing temperature of the cabin, however, was sufficient justification for the orderly's conduct, and by a little skillful manipulation he soon succeeded in getting up a tolerable fire.

The visitors having taken what seats they could, Hakkabut closed the door, and, like a prisoner awaiting his sentence, stood with folded hands, expecting the captain to speak.

"Listen," said Servadac; "we have come to ask a favor."

Imagining that at least half his property was to be confiscated, the Jew began to break out into his usual formula about being a poor man and having nothing to spare; but Servadac, without heeding his complainings, went on: "We are not going to ruin you, you know."

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Off on a Comet
Jules Verne

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