Violent as the commotion had been, that portion of the Algerian
coast which is bounded on the north by the Mediterranean, and on
the west by the right bank of the Shelif, appeared to have suffered
little change. It is true that indentations were perceptible in the
fertile plain, and the surface of the sea was ruffled with an
agitation that was quite unusual; but the rugged outline of the
cliff was the same as heretofore, and the aspect of the entire
scene appeared unaltered. The stone hostelry, with the exception of
some deep clefts in its walls, had sustained little injury; but the
gourbi, like a house of cards destroyed by an infant's breath, had
completely subsided, and its two inmates lay motionless, buried
under the sunken thatch.
It was two hours after the catastrophe that Captain Servadac
regained consciousness; he had some trouble to collect his
thoughts, and the first sounds that escaped his lips were the
concluding words of the rondo which had been so ruthlessly
interrupted; "Constant ever I will be, Constant … ."
His next thought was to wonder what had happened; and in order
to find an answer, he pushed aside the broken thatch, so that his
head appeared above the debris. "The gourbi leveled to the
ground!" he exclaimed, "surely a waterspout has passed along the
He felt all over his body to perceive what injuries he had
sustained, but not a sprain nor a scratch could he discover. "Where
are you, Ben Zoof?" he shouted.
"Here, sir!" and with military promptitude a second head
protruded from the rubbish.
"Have you any notion what has happened, Ben Zoof?"
"I've a notion, captain, that it's all up with us."
"Nonsense, Ben Zoof; it is nothing but a waterspout!"
"Very good, sir," was the philosophical reply, immediately
followed by the query, "Any bones broken, sir?"
"None whatever," said the captain.
Both men were soon on their feet, and began to make a vigorous
clearance of the ruins, beneath which they found that their arms,
cooking utensils, and other property, had sustained little
"By-the-by, what o'clock is it?" asked the captain.
"It must be eight o'clock, at least," said Ben Zoof, looking at
the sun, which was a considerable height above the horizon. "It is
almost time for us to start."
"To start! what for?"
"To keep your appointment with Count Timascheff."
"By Jove! I had forgotten all about it!" exclaimed Servadac.
Then looking at his watch, he cried, "What are you thinking of, Ben
Zoof? It is scarcely two o'clock."
"Two in the morning, or two in the afternoon?" asked Ben Zoof,
again regarding the sun.
Servadac raised his watch to his ear. "It is going," said he;
"but, by all the wines of Medoc, I am puzzled. Don't you see the
sun is in the west? It must be near setting."
"Setting, captain! Why, it is rising finely, like a conscript at
the sound of the reveille. It is considerably higher since we have
Incredible as it might appear, the fact was undeniable that the
sun was rising over the Shelif from that quarter of the horizon
behind which it usually sank for the latter portion of its daily
round. They were utterly bewildered. Some mysterious phenomenon
must not only have altered the position of the sun in the sidereal
system, but must even have brought about an important modification
of the earth's rotation on her axis.
Captain Servadac consoled himself with the prospect of reading
an explanation of the mystery in next week's newspapers, and turned
his attention to what was to him of more immediate importance.
"Come, let us be off," said he to his orderly; "though heaven and
earth be topsy-turvy, I must be at my post this morning."
"To do Count Timascheff the honor of running him through the
body," added Ben Zoof.
If Servadac and his orderly had been less preoccupied, they
would have noticed that a variety of other physical changes besides
the apparent alteration in the movement of the sun had been evolved
during the atmospheric disturbances of that New Year's night. As
they descended the steep footpath leading from the cliff towards
the Shelif, they were unconscious that their respiration became
forced and rapid, like that of a mountaineer when he has reached an
altitude where the air has become less charged with oxygen. They
were also unconscious that their voices were thin and feeble;
either they must themselves have become rather deaf, or it was
evident that the air had become less capable of transmitting
The weather, which on the previous evening had been very foggy,
had entirely changed. The sky had assumed a singular tint, and was
soon covered with lowering clouds that completely hid the sun.
There were, indeed, all the signs of a coming storm, but the vapor,
on account of the insufficient condensation, failed to fall.
The sea appeared quite deserted, a most unusual circumstance
along this coast, and not a sail nor a trail of smoke broke the
gray monotony of water and sky. The limits of the horizon, too, had
become much circumscribed. On land, as well as on sea, the remote
distance had completely disappeared, and it seemed as though the
globe had assumed a more decided convexity.
At the pace at which they were walking, it was very evident that
the captain and his attendant would not take long to accomplish the
three miles that lay between the gourbi and the place of
rendezvous. They did not exchange a word, but each was conscious of
an unusual buoyancy, which appeared to lift up their bodies and
give as it were, wings to their feet. If Ben Zoof had expressed his
sensations in words, he would have said that he felt "up to
anything," and he had even forgotten to taste so much as a crust of
bread, a lapse of memory of which the worthy soldier was rarely
As these thoughts were crossing his mind, a harsh bark was heard
to the left of the footpath, and a jackal was seen emerging from a
large grove of lentisks. Regarding the two wayfarers with manifest
uneasiness, the beast took up its position at the foot of a rock,
more than thirty feet in height. It belonged to an African species
distinguished by a black spotted skin, and a black line down the
front of the legs. At night-time, when they scour the country in
herds, the creatures are somewhat formidable, but singly they are
no more dangerous than a dog. Though by no means afraid of them,
Ben Zoof had a particular aversion to jackals, perhaps because they
had no place among the fauna of his beloved Montmartre. He
accordingly began to make threatening gestures, when, to the
unmitigated astonishment of himself and the captain, the animal
darted forward, and in one single bound gained the summit of the
"Good Heavens!" cried Ben Zoof, "that leap must have been thirty
feet at least."
"True enough," replied the captain; "I never saw such a
Meantime the jackal had seated itself upon its haunches, and was
staring at the two men with an air of impudent defiance. This was
too much for Ben Zoof's forbearance, and stooping down he caught up
a huge stone, when to his surprise, he found that it was no heavier
than a piece of petrified sponge. "Confound the brute!" he
exclaimed, "I might as well throw a piece of bread at him. What
accounts for its being as light as this?"
Nothing daunted, however, he hurled the stone into the air. It
missed its aim; but the jackal, deeming it on the whole prudent to
decamp, disappeared across the trees and hedges with a series of
bounds, which could only be likened to those that might be made by
an india-rubber kangaroo. Ben Zoof was sure that his own powers of
propelling must equal those of a howitzer, for his stone, after a
lengthened flight through the air, fell to the ground full five
hundred paces the other side of the rock.
The orderly was now some yards ahead of his master, and had
reached a ditch full of water, and about ten feet wide. With the
intention of clearing it, he made a spring, when a loud cry burst
from Servadac. "Ben Zoof, you idiot! What are you about? You will
break your back!"
And well might he be alarmed, for Ben Zoof had sprung to a
height of forty feet into the air. Fearful of the consequences that
would attend the descent of his servant to terra firma,
Servadac bounded forwards, to be on the other side of the ditch in
time to break his fall. But the muscular effort that he made
carried him in his turn to an altitude of thirty feet; in his
ascent he passed Ben Zoof, who had already commenced his downward
course; and then, obedient to the laws of gravitation, he descended
with increasing rapidity, and alighted upon the earth without
experiencing a shock greater than if he had merely made a bound of
four or five feet high.
Ben Zoof burst into a roar of laughter. "Bravo!" he said, "we
should make a good pair of clowns."
But the captain was inclined to take a more serious view of the
matter. For a few seconds he stood lost in thought, then said
solemnly, "Ben Zoof, I must be dreaming. Pinch me hard; I must be
either asleep or mad."
"It is very certain that something has happened to us," said Ben
Zoof. "I have occasionally dreamed that I was a swallow flying over
the Montmartre, but I never experienced anything of this kind
before; it must be peculiar to the coast of Algeria."
Servadac was stupefied; he felt instinctively that he was not
dreaming, and yet was powerless to solve the mystery. He was not,
however, the man to puzzle himself for long over any insoluble
problem. "Come what may," he presently exclaimed, "we will make up
our minds for the future to be surprised at nothing."
"Right, captain," replied Ben Zoof; "and, first of all, let us
settle our little score with Count Timascheff."
Beyond the ditch lay a small piece of meadow land, about an acre
in extent. A soft and delicious herbage carpeted the soil, whilst
trees formed a charming framework to the whole. No spot could have
been chosen more suitable for the meeting between the two
Servadac cast a hasty glance round. No one was in sight. "We are
the first on the field," he said.
"Not so sure of that, sir," said Ben Zoof.
"What do you mean?" asked Servadac, looking at his watch, which
he had set as nearly as possible by the sun before leaving the
gourbi; "it is not nine o'clock yet."
"Look up there, sir. I am much mistaken if that is not the sun;"
and as Ben Zoof spoke, he pointed directly overhead to where a
faint white disc was dimly visible through the haze of clouds.
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Servadac. "How can the sun be in the
zenith, in the month of January, in lat. 39 degrees N.?"
"Can't say, sir. I only know the sun is there; and at the rate
he has been traveling, I would lay my cap to a dish of couscous
that in less than three hours he will have set."
Hector Servadac, mute and motionless, stood with folded arms.
Presently he roused himself, and began to look about again. "What
means all this?" he murmured. "Laws of gravity disturbed! Points of
the compass reversed! The length of day reduced one half! Surely
this will indefinitely postpone my meeting with the count.
Something has happened; Ben Zoof and I cannot both be mad!"
The orderly, meantime, surveyed his master with the greatest
equanimity; no phenomenon, however extraordinary, would have drawn
from him a single exclamation of surprise. "Do you see anyone, Ben
Zoof?" asked the captain, at last.
"No one, sir; the count has evidently been and gone." "But
supposing that to be the case," persisted the captain, "my seconds
would have waited, and not seeing me, would have come on towards
the gourbi. I can only conclude that they have been unable to get
here; and as for Count Timascheff—"
Without finishing his sentence. Captain Servadac, thinking it
just probable that the count, as on the previous evening, might
come by water, walked to the ridge of rock that overhung the shore,
in order to ascertain if the Dobryna were anywhere in
sight. But the sea was deserted, and for the first time the captain
noticed that, although the wind was calm, the waters were unusually
agitated, and seethed and foamed as though they were boiling. It
was very certain that the yacht would have found a difficulty in
holding her own in such a swell. Another thing that now struck
Servadac was the extraordinary contraction of the horizon. Under
ordinary circumstances, his elevated position would have allowed
him a radius of vision at least five and twenty miles in length;
but the terrestrial sphere seemed, in the course of the last few
hours, to have become considerably reduced in volume, and he could
now see for a distance of only six miles in every direction.
Meantime, with the agility of a monkey, Ben Zoof had clambered
to the top of a eucalyptus, and from his lofty perch was surveying
the country to the south, as well as towards both Tenes and
Mostaganem. On descending, be informed the captain that the plain
"We will make our way to the river, and get over into
Mostaganem," said the captain.
The Shelif was not more than a mile and a half from the meadow,
but no time was to be lost if the two men were to reach the town
before nightfall. Though still hidden by heavy clouds, the sun was
evidently declining fast; and what was equally inexplicable, it was
not following the oblique curve that in these latitudes and at this
time of year might be expected, but was sinking perpendicularly on
to the horizon.
As he went along, Captain Servadac pondered deeply. Perchance
some unheard-of phenomenon had modified the rotary motion of the
globe; or perhaps the Algerian coast had been transported beyond
the equator into the southern hemisphere. Yet the earth, with the
exception of the alteration in its convexity, in this part of
Africa at least, seemed to have undergone no change of any very
great importance. As far as the eye could reach, the shore was, as
it had ever been, a succession of cliffs, beach, and arid rocks,
tinged with a red ferruginous hue. To the south—if south, in this
inverted order of things, it might still be called—the face of the
country also appeared unaltered, and some leagues away, the peaks
of the Merdeyah mountains still retained their accustomed
Presently a rift in the clouds gave passage to an oblique ray of
light that clearly proved that the sun was setting in the east.
"Well, I am curious to know what they think of all this at
Mostaganem," said the captain. "I wonder, too, what the Minister of
War will say when he receives a telegram informing him that his
African colony has become, not morally, but physically
disorganized; that the cardinal points are at variance with
ordinary rules, and that the sun in the month of January is shining
down vertically upon our heads."
Ben Zoof, whose ideas of discipline were extremely rigid, at
once suggested that the colony should be put under the surveillance
of the police, that the cardinal points should be placed under
restraint, and that the sun should be shot for breach of
Meantime, they were both advancing with the utmost speed. The
decompression of the atmosphere made the specific gravity of their
bodies extraordinarily light, and they ran like hares and leaped
like chamois. Leaving the devious windings of the footpath, they
went as a crow would fly across the country. Hedges, trees, and
streams were cleared at a bound, and under these conditions Ben
Zoof felt that he could have overstepped Montmartre at a single
stride. The earth seemed as elastic as the springboard of an
acrobat; they scarcely touched it with their feet, and their only
fear was lest the height to which they were propelled would consume
the time which they were saving by their short cut across the
It was not long before their wild career brought them to the
right bank of the Shelif. Here they were compelled to stop, for not
only had the bridge completely disappeared, but the river itself no
longer existed. Of the left bank there was not the slightest trace,
and the right bank, which on the previous evening had bounded the
yellow stream, as it murmured peacefully along the fertile plain,
had now become the shore of a tumultuous ocean, its azure waters
extending westwards far as the eye could reach, and annihilating
the tract of country which had hitherto formed the district of
Mostaganem. The shore coincided exactly with what had been the
right bank of the Shelif, and in a slightly curved line ran north
and south, whilst the adjacent groves and meadows all retained
their previous positions. But the river-bank had become the shore
of an unknown sea.
Eager to throw some light upon the mystery, Servadac hurriedly
made his way through the oleander bushes that overhung the shore,
took up some water in the hollow of his hand, and carried it to his
lips. "Salt as brine!" he exclaimed, as soon as he had tasted it.
"The sea has undoubtedly swallowed up all the western part of
"It will not last long, sir," said Ben Zoof. "It is, probably,
only a severe flood."
The captain shook his head. "Worse than that, I fear, Ben Zoof,"
he replied with emotion. "It is a catastrophe that may have very
serious consequences. What can have become of all my friends and
Ben Zoof was silent. Rarely had he seen his master so much
agitated; and though himself inclined to receive these phenomena
with philosophic indifference, his notions of military duty caused
his countenance to reflect the captain's expression of
But there was little time for Servadac to examine the changes
which a few hours had wrought. The sun had already reached the
eastern horizon, and just as though it were crossing the ecliptic
under the tropics, it sank like a cannon ball into the sea. Without
any warning, day gave place to night, and earth, sea, and sky were
immediately wrapped in profound obscurity.