Having refused to quit their post, the Englishmen had virtually excluded themselves from any further consideration; they had had their warning, and must now take the consequences of their own incredulity.
Although it had proved that not a single creature either at Gourbi Island, Gibraltar, Ceuta, Madalena, or Formentera had received any injury whatever at the time of the first concussion, there was nothing in the least to make it certain that a like immunity from harm would attend the second. The previous escape was doubtless owing to some slight, though unaccountable, modification in the rate of motion; but whether the inhabitants of the earth had fared so fortunately, was a question that had still to be determined.
The day following Servadac's return, he and the count and Lieutenant Procope met by agreement in the cave, formally to discuss what would be the most advisable method of proceeding under their present prospects. Ben Zoof was, as a matter of course, allowed to be present, and Professor Rosette had been asked to attend; but he declined on the plea of taking no interest in the matter. Indeed, the disappearance of his moon had utterly disconcerted him, and the probability that he should soon lose his comet also, plunged him into an excess of grief which he preferred to bear in solitude.
Although the barrier of cool reserve was secretly increasing between the captain and the count, they scrupulously concealed any outward token of their inner feelings, and without any personal bias applied their best energies to the discussion of the question which was of such mutual, nay, of such universal interest.
Servadac was the first to speak. "In fifty-one days, if Professor Rosette has made no error in his calculations, there is to be a recurrence of collision between this comet and the earth. The inquiry that we have now to make is whether we are prepared for the coming shock. I ask myself, and I ask you, whether it is in our power, by any means, to avert the evil consequences that are only too likely to follow?"
Count Timascheff, in a voice that seemed to thrill with solemnity, said: "In such events we are at the disposal of an over-ruling Providence; human precautions cannot sway the Divine will."
"But with the most profound reverence for the will of Providence," replied the captain, "I beg to submit that it is our duty to devise whatever means we can to escape the threatening mischief. Heaven helps them that help themselves."
"And what means have you to suggest, may I ask?" said the count, with a faint accent of satire.