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Lamentations Over Again But Standing Out Here Will Never Do






Part of: BOOK II
From: Off On A Comet

Out of the way, old Hakkabut, I say! out of the way!" and, without more
ado, he thrust the astonished Jew on one side and opened the door of the
cabin.

Servadac, however, declined to enter until he had taken the pains to
explain to the owner of the tartan that he had no intention of laying
violent hands upon his property, and that if the time should ever come
that his cargo was in requisition for the common use, he should receive
a proper price for his goods, the same as he would in Europe.

"Europe, indeed!" muttered the Jew maliciously between his teeth.
"European prices will not do for me. I must have Gallian prices--and of
my own fixing, too!"

So large a portion of the vessel had been appropriated to the cargo that
the space reserved for the cabin was of most meager dimensions. In one
corner of the compartment stood a small iron stove, in which smoldered a
bare handful of coals; in another was a trestle-board which served as a
bed; two or three stools and a rickety deal table, together with a few
cooking utensils, completed a stock of furniture which was worthy of its
proprietor.

On entering the cabin, Ben Zoof's first proceeding was to throw on the
fire a liberal supply of coals, utterly regardless of the groans of poor
Isaac, who would almost as soon have parted with his own bones as submit
to such reckless expenditure of his fuel. The perishing temperature
of the cabin, however, was sufficient justification for the orderly's
conduct, and by a little skillful manipulation he soon succeeded in
getting up a tolerable fire.

The visitors having taken what seats they could, Hakkabut closed the
door, and, like a prisoner awaiting his sentence, stood with folded
hands, expecting the captain to speak.

"Listen," said Servadac; "we have come to ask a favor."

Imagining that at least half his property was to be confiscated, the
Jew began to break out into his usual formula about being a poor man and
having nothing to spare; but Servadac, without heeding his complainings,
went on: "We are not going to ruin you, you know."

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?"

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.

"Oh, it is dirt cheap; but never mind, for one day, you shall have it.
Deposit in gold money a hundred francs, and twenty francs for the hire."
The old man folded his hands in meek resignation.

"The fellow knows how to make a good bargain," said Servadac, as Isaac,
after casting a distrustful look around, went out of the cabin.

"Detestable old wretch!" replied the count, full of disgust.

Hardly a minute elapsed before the Jew was back again, carrying his
precious steelyard with ostentatious care. It was of an ordinary kind.
A spring balance, fitted with a hook, held the article to be weighed;
a pointer, revolving on a disc, indicated the weight of the article.
Professor Rosette was manifestly right in asserting that such a machine
would register results quite independently of any change in the force
of attraction. On the earth it would have registered a kilogramme as a
kilogramme; here it recorded a different value altogether, as the result
of the altered force of gravity.

Gold coinage to the worth of one hundred and twenty francs was handed
over to the Jew, who clutched at the money with unmistakable eagerness.
The steelyard was committed to the keeping of Ben Zoof, and the visitors
prepared to quit the Hansa.

All at once it occurred to the professor that the steelyard would be
absolutely useless to him, unless he had the means for ascertaining the
precise measurement of the unit of the soil of Gallia which he proposed
to weigh. "Something more you must lend me," he said, addressing the
Jew. "I must have a measure, and I must have a kilogramme."

"I have neither of them," answered Isaac. "I have neither. I am sorry; I
am very sorry." And this time the old Jew spoke the truth. He would have
been really glad to do another stroke or two of business upon terms as
advantageous as the transaction he had just concluded.

Palmyrin Rosette scratched his head in perplexity, glaring round upon
his companions as if they were personally responsible for his annoyance.
He muttered something about finding a way out of his difficulty, and
hastily mounted the cabin-ladder. The rest followed, but they had hardly
reached the deck when the chink of money was heard in the room below.
Hakkabut was locking away the gold in one of the drawers.

Back again, down the ladder, scrambled the little professor, and before
the Jew was aware of his presence he had seized him by the tail of his
slouchy overcoat. "Some of your money! I must have money!" he said.

"Money!" gasped Hakkabut; "I have no money." He was pale with fright,
and hardly knew what he was saying.

"Falsehood!" roared Rosette. "Do you think I cannot see?" And peering
down into the drawer which the Jew was vainly trying to close, he cried,
"Heaps of money! French money! Five-franc pieces! the very thing I want!
I must have them!"

The captain and his friends, who had returned to the cabin looked on
with mingled amusement and bewilderment.

"They are mine!" shrieked Hakkabut.

"I will have them!" shouted the professor.

"You shall kill me first!" bellowed the Jew.

"No, but I must!" persisted the professor again.

It was manifestly time for Servadac to interfere. "My dear professor,"
he said, smiling, "allow me to settle this little matter for you."

"Ah! your Excellency," moaned the agitated Jew, "protect me! I am but a
poor man--"

"None of that, Hakkabut. Hold your tongue." And, turning to Rosette,
the captain said, "If, sir, I understand right, you require some silver
five-franc pieces for your operation?"

"Forty," said Rosette, surlily.

"Two hundred francs!" whined Hakkabut.

"Silence!" cried the captain.

"I must have more than that," the professor continued. "I want ten
two-franc pieces, and twenty half-francs."

"Let me see," said Servadac, "how much is that in all? Two hundred and
thirty francs, is it not?"

"I dare say it is," answered the professor.

"Count, may I ask you," continued Servadac, "to be security to the Jew
for this loan to the professor?"

"Loan!" cried the Jew, "do you mean only a loan?"

"Silence!" again shouted the captain.

Count Timascheff, expressing his regret that his purse contained only
paper money, begged to place it at Captain Servadac's disposal.

"No paper, no paper!" exclaimed Isaac. "Paper has no currency in
Gallia."

"About as much as silver," coolly retorted the count.

"I am a poor man," began the Jew.

"Now, Hakkabut, stop these miserable lamentations of yours, once for
all. Hand us over two hundred and thirty francs in silver money, or we
will proceed to help ourselves."

Isaac began to yell with all his might: "Thieves! thieves!"

In a moment Ben Zoof's hand was clasped tightly over his mouth. "Stop
that howling, Belshazzar!"

"Let him alone, Ben Zoof. He will soon come to his senses," said
Servadac, quietly.

When the old Jew had again recovered himself, the captain addressed him.
"Now, tell us, what interest do you expect?"

Nothing could overcome the Jew's anxiety to make another good bargain.
He began: "Money is scarce, very scarce, you know--"

"No more of this!" shouted Servadac. "What interest, I say, what
interest do you ask?"

Faltering and undecided still, the Jew went on. "Very scarce, you know.
Ten francs a day, I think, would not be unreasonable, considering--"

The count had no patience to allow him to finish what he was about
to say. He flung down notes to the value of several rubles. With a
greediness that could not be concealed, Hakkabut grasped them all.
Paper, indeed, they were; but the cunning Israelite knew that they would
in any case be security far beyond the value of his cash. He was making
some eighteen hundred per cent. interest, and accordingly chuckled
within himself at his unexpected stroke of business.

The professor pocketed his French coins with a satisfaction far more
demonstrative. "Gentlemen," he said, "with these franc pieces I obtain
the means of determining accurately both a meter and a kilogramme."





Next: Gallia Weighed

Previous: Money At A Premium



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