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A Sledge-Ride

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Table Of Contents: Off on a Comet

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"Are we not considerably to the west of Formentera?" asked Servadac, after examining the chart.

"Most likely," replied Procope. "I have taken the same course as I should have done at sea, and I have kept some distance to windward of the island; we can bear straight down upon it whenever we like."

"Bear down then, now; and as quickly as you can."

The yawl was at once put with her head to the northeast and Captain Servadac, in defiance of the icy blast, remained standing at the bow, his gaze fixed on the horizon.

All at once his eye brightened.

"Look! look!" he exclaimed, pointing to a faint outline that broke the monotony of the circle that divided the plain from the sky.

In an instant the lieutenant had seized his telescope.

"I see what you mean," said he; "it is a pylone that has been used for some geodesic survey."

The next moment the sail was filled, and the yawl was bearing down upon the object with inconceivable swiftness, both Captain Servadac and the lieutenant too excited to utter a word. Mile after mile the distance rapidly grew less, and as they drew nearer the pylone they could see that it was erected on a low mass of rocks that was the sole interruption to the dull level of the field of ice. No wreath of smoke rose above the little island; it was manifestly impossible, they conceived, that any human being could there have survived the cold; the sad presentiment forced itself upon their minds that it was a mere cairn to which they had been hurrying.

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Ten minutes later, and they were so near the rock that the lieutenant took in his sail, convinced that the impetus already attained would be sufficient to carry him to the land. Servadac's heart bounded as he caught sight of a fragment of blue canvas fluttering in the wind from the top of the pylone: it was all that now remained of the French national standard. At the foot of the pylone stood a miserable shed, its shutters tightly closed. No other habitation was to be seen; the entire island was less than a quarter of a mile in circumference; and the conclusion was irresistible that it was the sole surviving remnant of Formentera, once a member of the Balearic Archipelago.

To leap on shore, to clamber over the slippery stones, and to reach the cabin was but the work of a few moments. The worm-eaten door was bolted on the inside. Servadac began to knock with all his might. No answer. Neither shouting nor knocking could draw forth a reply.

"Let us force it open, Procope!" he said.

The two men put their shoulders to the door, which soon yielded to their vigorous efforts, and they found themselves inside the shed, and in almost total darkness. By opening a shutter they admitted what daylight they could. At first sight the wretched place seemed to be deserted; the little grate contained the ashes of a fire long since extinguished; all looked black and desolate. Another instant's investigation, however, revealed a bed in the extreme corner, and extended on the bed a human form.

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Off on a Comet
Jules Verne

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