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Book II Jules Verne

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Table Of Contents: Off on a Comet

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Hakkabut looked keenly into the captain's face.

"We have only come to know whether you can lend us a steelyard."

So far from showing any symptom of relief, the old miser exclaimed, with a stare of astonishment, as if he had been asked for some thousand francs: "A steelyard?"

"Yes!" echoed the professor, impatiently; "a steelyard."

"Have you not one?" asked Servadac.

"To be sure he has!" said Ben Zoof.

Old Isaac stammered and stuttered, but at last confessed that perhaps there might be one amongst the stores.

"Then, surely, you will not object to lend it to us?" said the captain.

"Only for one day," added the professor.

The Jew stammered again, and began to object. "It is a very delicate instrument, your Excellency. The cold, you know, the cold may do injury to the spring; and perhaps you are going to use it to weigh something very heavy."

"Why, old Ephraim, do you suppose we are going to weigh a mountain with it?" said Ben Zoof.

"Better than that!" cried out the professor, triumphantly; "we are going to weigh Gallia with it; my comet."

"Merciful Heaven!" shrieked Isaac, feigning consternation at the bare suggestion.

Servadac knew well enough that the Jew was holding out only for a good bargain, and assured him that the steelyard was required for no other purpose than to weigh a kilogramme, which (considering how much lighter everything had become) could not possibly put the slightest strain upon the instrument.

The Jew still spluttered, and moaned, and hesitated.

"Well, then," said Servadac, "if you do not like to lend us your steelyard, do you object to sell it to us?"

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Isaac fairly shrieked aloud. "God of Israel!" he ejaculated, "sell my steelyard? Would you deprive me of one of the most indispensable of my means of livelihood? How should I weigh my merchandise without my steelyard--my solitary steelyard, so delicate and so correct?"

The orderly wondered how his master could refrain from strangling the old miser upon the spot; but Servadac, rather amused than otherwise, determined to try another form of persuasion. "Come, Hakkabut, I see that you are not disposed either to lend or to sell your steelyard. What do you say to letting us hire it?"

The Jew's eyes twinkled with a satisfaction that he was unable to conceal. "But what security would you give? The instrument is very valuable;" and he looked more cunning than ever.

"What is it worth? If it is worth twenty francs, I will leave a deposit of a hundred. Will that satisfy you?"

He shook his head doubtfully. "It is very little; indeed, it is too little, your Excellency. Consider, it is the only steelyard in all this new world of ours; it is worth more, much more. If I take your deposit it must be in gold--all gold. But how much do you agree to give me for the hire-- the hire, one day?"

"You shall have twenty francs," said Servadac.

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Off on a Comet
Jules Verne

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