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|Book I||Jules Verne|
An Unexpected Population
|Page 3 of 6||
The next thing requisite was to arrive at a true estimate of the number of the population. Without including the thirteen Englishmen at Gibraltar, about whom he was not particularly disposed to give himself much concern at present, Servadac put down the names of the eight Russians, the two Frenchman, and the little Italian girl, eleven in all, as the entire list of the inhabitants of Gourbi Island.
"Oh, pardon me," interposed Ben Zoof, "you are mistaking the state of the case altogether. You will be surprised to learn that the total of people on the island is double that. It is twenty-two."
"Twenty-two!" exclaimed the captain; "twenty-two people on this island? What do you mean?"
"The opportunity has not occurred," answered Ben Zoof, "for me to tell you before, but I have had company."
"Explain yourself, Ben Zoof," said Servadac. "What company have you had?"
"You could not suppose," replied the orderly, "that my own unassisted hands could have accomplished all that harvest work that you see has been done."
"I confess," said Lieutenant Procope, "we do not seem to have noticed that."
"Well, then," said Ben Zoof, "if you will be good enough to come with me for about a mile, I shall be able to show you my companions. But we must take our guns,"
"Why take our guns?" asked Servadac. "I hope we are not going to fight."
"No, not with men," said Ben Zoof; "but it does not answer to throw a chance away for giving battle to those thieves of birds."
Leaving little Nina and her goat in the gourbi, Servadac, Count Timascheff, and the lieutenant, greatly mystified, took up their guns and followed the orderly. All along their way they made unsparing slaughter of the birds that hovered over and around them. Nearly every species of the feathered tribe seemed to have its representative in that living cloud. There were wild ducks in thousands; snipe, larks, rooks, and swallows; a countless variety of sea-birds--widgeons, gulls, and seamews; beside a quantity of game--quails, partridges, and woodcocks. The sportsmen did their best; every shot told; and the depredators fell by dozens on either hand.
Instead of following the northern shore of the island, Ben Zoof cut obliquely across the plain. Making their progress with the unwonted rapidity which was attributable to their specific lightness, Servadac and his companions soon found themselves near a grove of sycamores and eucalyptus massed in picturesque confusion at the base of a little hill. Here they halted.
"Ah! the vagabonds! the rascals! the thieves!" suddenly exclaimed Ben Zoof, stamping his foot with rage.
"How now? Are your friends the birds at their pranks again?" asked the captain.
"No, I don't mean the birds: I mean those lazy beggars that are shirking their work. Look here; look there!" And as Ben Zoof spoke, he pointed to some scythes, and sickles, and other implements of husbandry that had been left upon the ground.
"What is it you mean?" asked Servadac, getting somewhat impatient.
"Hush, hush! listen!" was all Ben Zoof's reply; and he raised his finger as if in warning.
Listening attentively, Servadac and his associates could distinctly recognize a human voice, accompanied by the notes of a guitar and by the measured click of castanets.
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