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Book II Jules Verne

The Professor Perplexed

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One day, as he was hurrying down to his study, he met Ben Zoof, who, secretly entertaining a feeling of delight at the professor's manifest discomfiture, made some casual remark about things not being very straight. The way in which his advance was received the good orderly never divulged, but henceforward he maintained the firm conviction that there was something very much amiss up in the sky.

To Servadac and his friends this continual disquietude and ill-humor on the part of the professor occasioned no little anxiety. From what, they asked, could his dissatisfaction arise? They could only conjecture that he had discovered some flaw in his reckonings; and if this were so, might there not be reason to apprehend that their anticipations of coming into contact with the earth, at the settled time, might all be falsified?

Day followed day, and still there was no cessation of the professor's discomposure. He was the most miserable of mortals. If really his calculations and his observations were at variance, this, in a man of his irritable temperament, would account for his perpetual perturbation. But he entered into no explanation; he only climbed up to his telescope, looking haggard and distressed, and when compelled by the frost to retire, he would make his way back to his study more furious than ever. At times he was heard giving vent to his vexation. "Confound it! what does it mean? what is she doing? All behind! Is Newton a fool? Is the law of universal gravitation the law of universal nonsense?" And the little man would seize his head in both his hands, and tear away at the scanty locks which he could ill afford to lose.

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Enough was overheard to confirm the suspicion that there was some irreconcilable discrepancy between the results of his computation and what he had actually observed; and yet, if he had been called upon to say, he would have sooner insisted that there was derangement in the laws of celestial mechanism, than have owned there was the least probability of error in any of his own calculations. Assuredly, if the poor professor had had any flesh to lose he would have withered away to a shadow.

But this state of things was before long to come to an end. On the 12th, Ben Zoof, who was hanging about outside the great hall of the cavern, heard the professor inside utter a loud cry. Hurrying in to ascertain the cause, he found Rosette in a state of perfect frenzy, in which ecstasy and rage seemed to be struggling for the predominance.

"Eureka! Eureka!" yelled the excited astronomer.

"What, in the name of peace, do you mean?" bawled Ben Zoof, in open-mouthed amazement.

"Eureka!" again shrieked the little man.

"How? What? Where?" roared the bewildered orderly.

"Eureka! I say," repeated Rosette; "and if you don't understand me, you may go to the devil!"

Without availing himself of this polite invitation, Ben Zoof betook himself to his master. "Something has happened to the professor," he said; "he is rushing about like a madman, screeching and yelling 'Eureka!'"

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Off on a Comet
Jules Verne

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