The Astronomer


By the return of the expedition, conveying its contribution from

Formentera, the known population of Gallia was raised to a total of


On learning the details of his friends' discoveries, Count Timascheff

did not hesitate in believing that the exhausted individual who was

lying before him was the author alike of the two unsigned documents

picked up at sea, and of the third statement so recently
rought to hand

by the carrier-pigeon. Manifestly, he had arrived at some knowledge of

Gallia's movements: he had estimated her distance from the sun; he had

calculated the diminution of her tangential speed; but there was nothing

to show that he had arrived at the conclusions which were of the most

paramount interest to them all. Had he ascertained the true character of

her orbit? had he established any data from which it would be possible

to reckon what time must elapse before she would again approach the


The only intelligible words which the astronomer had uttered had been,

"My comet!"

To what could the exclamation refer? Was it to be conjectured that a

fragment of the earth had been chipped off by the collision of a comet?

and if so, was it implied that the name of the comet itself was Gallia,

and were they mistaken in supposing that such was the name given by the

savant to the little world that had been so suddenly launched

into space? Again and again they discussed these questions; but no

satisfactory answer could be found. The only man who was able to throw

any light upon the subject was lying amongst them in an unconscious and

half-dying condition.

Apart from motives of humanity, motives of self-interest made it a

matter of the deepest concern to restore animation to that senseless

form. Ben Zoof, after making the encouraging remark that savants have

as many lives as a cat, proceeded, with Negrete's assistance, to give

the body such a vigorous rubbing as would have threatened serious

injury to any ordinary mortal, whilst they administered cordials and

restoratives from the Dobryna's medical stores powerful enough, one

might think, to rouse the very dead.

Meanwhile the captain was racking his brain in his exertions to recall

what were the circumstances of his previous acquaintance with the

Frenchman upon whose features he was gazing; he only grew more and more

convinced that he had once been familiar with them. Perhaps it was not

altogether surprising that he had almost forgotten him; he had never

seen him since the days of his youth, that time of life which, with a

certain show of justice, has been termed the age of ingratitude; for,

in point of fact, the astronomer was none other than Professor Palmyrin

Rosette, Servadac's old science-master at the Lycee Charlemagne.

After completing his year of elementary studies, Hector Servadac had

entered the school at Saint Cyr, and from that time he and his former

tutor had never met, so that naturally they would well-nigh pass from

each other's recollection. One thing, however, on the other hand, might

conduce to a mutual and permanent impression on their memories; during

the year at the Lycee, young Servadac, never of a very studious turn

of mind, had contrived, as the ringleader of a set of like caliber as

himself, to lead the poor professor a life of perpetual torment. On the

discovery of each delinquency he would fume and rage in a manner that

was a source of unbounded delight to his audience.

Two years after Servadac left the Lycee, Professor Rosette had thrown

up all educational employment in order that he might devote himself

entirely to the study of astronomy. He endeavored to obtain a post

at the Observatory, but his ungenial character was so well known in

scientific circles that he failed in his application; however, having

some small private means, he determined on his own account to carry on

his researches without any official salary. He had really considerable

genius for the science that he had adopted; besides discovering three of

the latest of the telescopic planets, he had worked out the elements of

the three hundred and twenty-fifth comet in the catalogue; but his chief

delight was to criticize the publications of other astronomers, and

he was never better pleased than when he detected a flaw in their


When Ben Zoof and Negrete had extricated their patient from the envelope

of furs in which he had been wrapped by Servadac and the lieutenant,

they found themselves face to face with a shrivelled little man, about

five feet two inches high, with a round bald head, smooth and shiny as

an ostrich's egg, no beard unless the unshorn growth of a week could

be so described, and a long hooked nose that supported a huge pair of

spectacles such as with many near-sighted people seems to have become

a part of their individuality. His nervous system was remarkably

developed, and his body might not inaptly be compared to one of the

Rhumkorff's bobbins of which the thread, several hundred yards in

length, is permeated throughout by electric fluid. But whatever he was,

his life, if possible, must be preserved. When he had been partially

divested of his clothing, his heart was found to be still beating,

though very feebly. Asserting that while there was life there was hope,

Ben Zoof recommenced his friction with more vigor than ever.

When the rubbing had been continued without a moment's intermission for

the best part of half an hour, the astronomer heaved a faint sigh, which

ere long was followed by another and another. He half opened his eyes,

closed them again, then opened them completely, but without exhibiting

any consciousness whatever of his situation. A few words seemed to

escape his lips, but they were quite unintelligible. Presently he raised

his right hand to his forehead as though instinctively feeling for

something that was missing; then, all of a sudden, his features became

contracted, his face flushed with apparent irritation, and he exclaimed

fretfully, "My spectacles!--where are my spectacles?"

In order to facilitate his operations, Ben Zoof had removed the

spectacles in spite of the tenacity with which they seemed to adhere

to the temples of his patient; but he now rapidly brought them back

and readjusted them as best he could to what seemed to be their natural

position on the aquiline nose. The professor heaved a long sigh of

relief, and once more closed his eyes.

Before long the astronomer roused himself a little more, and glanced

inquiringly about him, but soon relapsed into his comatose condition.

When next he opened his eyes, Captain Servadac happened to be bending

down closely over him, examining his features with curious scrutiny.

The old man darted an angry look at him through the spectacles, and said

sharply, "Servadac, five hundred lines to-morrow!"

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.

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.

From the prima facie appearance of his papers, then, it seemed

probable that the astronomer, during his sojourn at Formentera, had been

devoting himself to the study of cometary orbits; and as calculations of

this kind are ordinarily based upon the assumption that the orbit is a

parabola, it was not unlikely that he had been endeavoring to trace the

path of some particular comet.

"I wonder whether these calculations were made before or after the 1st

of January; it makes all the difference," said Lieutenant Procope.

"We must bide our time and hear," replied the count.

Servadac paced restlessly up and down. "I would give a month of my

life," he cried, impetuously, "for every hour that the old fellow goes

sleeping on."

"You might be making a bad bargain," said Procope, smiling. "Perhaps

after all the comet has had nothing to do with the convulsion that we

have experienced."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed the captain; "I know better than that, and so do

you. Is it not as clear as daylight that the earth and this comet have

been in collision, and the result has been that our little world has

been split off and sent flying far into space?"

Count Timascheff and the lieutenant looked at each other in silence. "I

do not deny your theory," said Procope after a while. "If it be correct,

I suppose we must conclude that the enormous disc we observed on the

night of the catastrophe was the comet itself; and the velocity with

which it was traveling must have been so great that it was hardly

arrested at all by the attraction of the earth."

"Plausible enough," answered Count Timascheff; "and it is to this comet

that our scientific friend here has given the name of Gallia."

It still remained a puzzle to them all why the astronomer should

apparently be interested in the comet so much more than in the new

little world in which their strange lot was cast.

"Can you explain this?" asked the count.

"There is no accounting for the freaks of philosophers, you know," said

Servadac; "and have I not told you that this philosopher in particular

is one of the most eccentric beings in creation?"

"Besides," added the lieutenant, "it is exceedingly likely that his

observations had been going on for some considerable period before the

convulsion happened."

Thus, the general conclusion arrived at by the Gallian Academy of

Science was this: That on the night of the 31st of December, a comet,

crossing the ecliptic, had come into collision with the earth, and that

the violence of the shock had separated a huge fragment from the

globe, which fragment from that date had been traversing the remote

inter-planetary regions. Palmyrin Rosette would doubtless confirm their

solution of the phenomenon.