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Book II Jules Verne

The Astronomer

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Table Of Contents: Off on a Comet

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It was an echo of days of old. The words were few, but they were enough to recall the identity which Servadac was trying to make out.

"Is it possible?" he exclaimed. "Here is my old tutor, Mr. Rosette, in very flesh and blood."

"Can't say much for the flesh," muttered Ben Zoof.

The old man had again fallen back into a torpid slumber. Ben Zoof continued, "His sleep is getting more composed. Let him alone; he will come round yet. Haven't I heard of men more dried up than he is, being brought all the way from Egypt in cases covered with pictures?"

"You idiot!--those were mummies; they had been dead for ages."

Ben Zoof did not answer a word. He went on preparing a warm bed, into which he managed to remove his patient, who soon fell into a calm and natural sleep.

Too impatient to await the awakening of the astronomer and to hear what representations he had to make, Servadac, the count, and the lieutenant, constituting themselves what might be designated "the Academy of Sciences" of the colony, spent the whole of the remainder of the day in starting and discussing the wildest conjectures about their situation. The hypothesis, to which they had now accustomed themselves for so long, that a new asteroid had been formed by a fracture of the earth's surface, seemed to fall to the ground when they found that Professor Palmyrin Rosette had associated the name of Gallia, not with their present home, but with what he called "my comet"; and that theory being abandoned, they were driven to make the most improbable speculations to replace it.

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Alluding to Rosette, Servadac took care to inform his companions that, although the professor was always eccentric, and at times very irascible, yet he was really exceedingly good-hearted; his bark was worse than his bite; and if suffered to take their course without observation, his outbreaks of ill-temper seldom lasted long.

"We will certainly do our best to get on with him," said the count. "He is no doubt the author of the papers, and we must hope that he will be able to give us some valuable information."

"Beyond a question the documents have originated with him," assented the lieutenant. "Gallia was the word written at the top of every one of them, and Gallia was the first word uttered by him in our hearing."

The astronomer slept on. Meanwhile, the three together had no hesitation in examining his papers, and scrutinizing the figures on his extemporized blackboard. The handwriting corresponded with that of the papers already received; the blackboard was covered with algebraical symbols traced in chalk, which they were careful not to obliterate; and the papers, which consisted for the most part of detached scraps, presented a perfect wilderness of geometrical figures, conic sections of every variety being repeated in countless profusion.

Lieutenant Procope pointed out that these curves evidently had reference to the orbits of comets, which are variously parabolic, hyperbolic, or elliptic. If either of the first two, the comet, after once appearing within the range of terrestrial vision, would vanish forever in the outlying regions of space; if the last, it would be sure, sooner or later, after some periodic interval, to return.

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Off on a Comet
Jules Verne

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