Off on a Comet

Off on a Comet by Jules Verne

Book: Off on a Comet by Jules Verne Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jules Verne
tended towards the north. No
alternative, therefore, remained than to take a westerly course and to
attempt to reach the northern shores of the Mediterranean. On the 16th
the
Dobryna
essayed to start upon her altered way, but it seemed as if
the elements had conspired to obstruct her progress. A furious tempest
arose; the wind beat dead in the direction of the coast, and the danger
incurred by a vessel of a tonnage so light was necessarily very great.
    Lieutenant Procope was extremely uneasy. He took in all sail, struck
his topmasts, and resolved to rely entirely on his engine. But the peril
seemed only to increase. Enormous waves caught the schooner and carried
her up to their crests, whence again she was plunged deep into the
abysses that they left. The screw failed to keep its hold upon the
water, but continually revolved with useless speed in the vacant air;
and thus, although the steam was forced on to the extremest limit
consistent with safety, the vessel held her way with the utmost
difficulty, and recoiled before the hurricane.
    Still, not a single resort for refuge did the inaccessible shore
present. Again and again the lieutenant asked himself what would become
of him and his comrades, even if they should survive the peril of
shipwreck, and gain a footing upon the cliff. What resources could
they expect to find upon that scene of desolation? What hope could they
entertain that any portion of the old continent still existed beyond
that dreary barrier?
    It was a trying time, but throughout it all the crew behaved with
the greatest courage and composure; confident in the skill of their
commander, and in the stability of their ship, they performed their
duties with steadiness and unquestioning obedience.
    But neither skill, nor courage, nor obedience could avail; all was in
vain. Despite the strain put upon her engine, the schooner, bare of
canvas (for not even the smallest stay-sail could have withstood the
violence of the storm), was drifting with terrific speed towards the
menacing precipices, which were only a. few short miles to leeward.
Fully alive to the hopelessness of their situation, the crew were all on
deck.
    "All over with us, sir!" said Procope to the count. "I have done
everything that man could do; but our case is desperate. Nothing short
of a miracle can save us now. Within an hour we must go to pieces upon
yonder rocks."
    "Let us, then, commend ourselves to the providence of Him to Whom
nothing is impossible," replied the count, in a calm, clear voice
that could be distinctly heard by all; and as he spoke, he reverently
uncovered, an example in which he was followed by all the rest.
    The destruction of the vessel seeming thus inevitable, Lieutenant
Procope took the best measures he could to insure a few days' supply
of food for any who might escape ashore. He ordered several cases of
provisions and kegs of water to be brought on deck, and saw that they
were securely lashed to some empty barrels, to make them float after the
ship had gone down.
    Less and less grew the distance from the shore, but no creek, no inlet,
could be discerned in the towering wall of cliff, which seemed about to
topple over and involve them in annihilation. Except a change of wind
or, as Procope observed, a supernatural rifting of the rock, nothing
could bring deliverance now. But the wind did not veer, and in a few
minutes more the schooner was hardly three cables' distance from the
fatal land. All were aware that their last moment had arrived. Servadac
and the count grasped each other's hands for a long farewell; and,
tossed by the tremendous waves, the schooner was on the very point of
being hurled upon the cliff, when a ringing shout was heard. "Quick,
boys, quick! Hoist the jib, and right the tiller!"
    Sudden and startling as the unexpected orders were, they were executed
as if by magic.
    The lieutenant, who had shouted from the bow, rushed astern and took
the helm, and before anyone had time to speculate upon the object of

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