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Authors: Jules Verne

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BOOK: The Floating Island

And this was no joke on his part.
Really there was a form moving amid the trees.

“Human or animal?” asked

“I do not know.”

Which was the more formidable no
one would have ventured to say. They crowded together, without retreating,
without uttering a word.

Through a rift in the clouds the
rays of the moon lighted the dome of this gloomy forest, and flittered to the
ground through the branches of the sequoias. For a hundred yards or so the
surroundings were visible.

Pinchinat had not been the dupe
of an illusion. Too large for a man, the mass could only be a big quadruped.
What quadruped? A wild beast? A wild beast certainly. But what wild beast?

“A plantigrade,” said Yvernès.

“Oh! bother the animal!” muttered
Zorn, in a low impatient tone, “and by animal, I mean you, Yvernès. Why cannot
you talk like other people? What do you mean by a plantigrade?”

“An animal that walks on its
plants!” explained Pinchinat.

“A bear!” replied Frascolin.

It was a bear, and a large bear
too. Lions, tigers, leopards are not met with in these forests of Lower
California. Bears are, however, constantly found there, and encounters with
them are generally disagreeable.

No surprise will be felt at the
Parisians, with one accord, resolving to get out of the way of this
plantigrade. Besides, was he not at home? And so the group closed up and
retreated backwards, facing the bear, but moving slowly and deliberately,
without seeming to be running away.

The bear followed at a slow pace,
shaking his fore paws like the arms of a semaphore, and balancing himself on his
haunches. Gradually he approached, and his demonstrations became hostile

gruff growls and a
snapping of the jaws, which were rather alarming.

“Suppose we run each on his own
account?” proposed “his highness.”

“Do nothing of the sort,” replied
Frascolin. “One of us would be sure to be caught, and who would pay for the

The imprudence was not committed;
it was evident that its consequences might be disastrous.

The quartette thus arrived
huddled together on the edge of the clearing where the darkness was not so
great. The bear had approached within a dozen yards. Did the spot appear to him
convenient for an attack? Probably, for his growls redoubled, and he hastened
his advance.

Precipitate retreat of the group,
and earnest appeals from the second violin, “Be cool! be cool, my friends!”

The clearing was crossed and they
found the shelter of the trees. But there the peril was as great. By running
from one tree to another, the animal could leap on them without its being
possible to foresee his attack, and he was about to act in this way, when his
terrible growlings ceased, he began to halt

The deep gloom was filled with a
penetrating musical sound, an expressive
, in which the soul of an
artiste was fully revealed.

It was Yvernès, who had drawn his
violin from its case and made it vibrate under the powerful caress of the bow.
An idea of genius! Why should not the musicians owe their safety to music? Had
not the stones moved by the strains of Amphion ranged themselves round Thebes?
Had not the wild beasts, thrilled by his lyrical inspirations, run to the knees
of Orpheus? It seemed as though this Californian bear, under atavistic
influence, was as artistically gifted as his congeners in the fable, for his
fierceness disappeared, his instincts of melomania took possession of him, and
as the quartette retreated in good order, he followed them uttering little
cries of approval. It would not have taken much to make him say “Bravo!”

A quarter of an hour later Zorn
and his companions were at the edge of the wood. They crossed it, Yvernès
fiddling all the time.

The animal stopped. It looked as
though he had no intention of going further. He patted his big paws against
each other.

And then Pinchinat also seized
his instrument, and shouted,

“The dancing bear. Come on!”

And while the first violin
ploughed away steadily at the well-known tune in the major, the alto assisted
with a base shrill and false in the mediant minor.

The bear began to dance, lifting
the right foot, lifting the left foot, turning and twisting, while the four men
went further and further away.

“Well,” said Pinchinat,” he is
only a circus bear.”

“It does not matter,” replied
Frascolin, “Yvernès had a capital idea.”

“Let us run for it,

said the ‘cellist, “and don’t look behind.”

It was about nine o’clock when
the four disciples of Apollo arrived at Freschal. They had come along
splendidly during the latter half of their journey, although the plantigrade
was not on their traces.

Some forty wooden houses around a
square planted with beeches, that was Freschal, a village isolated in the
country and about two miles from the coast.

Our artistes glided between a few
houses shaded with large trees, came out on the square, looked up at the humble
spire of a little church, stopped, formed in a circle as if they were about to
give an appropriate performance, and began to talk.

“Is this a village? asked

“Did you expect to find a city
like Philadelphia or New York?” asked Frascolin.

“But your village is asleep!”
replied Sebastien Zorn.

“Awake not a village that sleeps,”
sighed Yvernès, melodiously.

“On the contrary,” said Pinchinat,
“wake it up well.”

And unless they were to spend the
night in the open air they would have to do so.

Yet the place was quite deserted,
the silence complete. Not a shutter was open, not a light was at a window.

“And where is the hotel?” asked

Yes, the hotel which the driver
had mentioned, where travellers in distress would receive good welcome and
treatment. And the hotel-keeper who would send help to the unfortunate
coachman. Had the poor man dreamt of these things? Or

another suggestion

had Zorn and his
companions gone astray? Was this really Freschal?

These questions required an
immediate reply. The villagers must be applied to for information, and the door
of one of the houses must be knocked at; that of the hotel if possible, if by a
lucky chance they could find which it was.

The four musicians began to
reconnoitre round the place, prowling along the front of the houses, trying to
find a sign hanging overhead. But there was nothing to show them which was the

As they could not find the hotel,
perhaps there was some private house that would give them shelter. What native
of Freschal would refuse a couple of dollars for a supper and a bed?

“Let us knock,” said Frascolin.

“And in time,” said Pinchinat, “in
six-eight time.”

They knocked three or four times
with the same result. Not a door, not a window opened.

“We are deceived,” said Yvernès, “it
is not a village, it is a cemetery, where if they sleep their sleep is eternal.
Vox clamantis in deserto

” replied “his
highness” in a deep voice, as if chanting in a cathedral.

What was to be done as the
silence remained unbroken? Continue the journey towards San Diego? They were

that is
the word

hunger and fatigue. And then what road were they to follow without a guide
through this dark night? Try to reach another village? Which one? According to
the coachman there was no other village on this part of the coast. The best
thing they could do was to wait for daylight. But to spend six hours without
shelter beneath a sky overcast with heavy clouds threatening rain every instant

that was not to be
thought of, even by artistes.

Pinchinat had an idea. His ideas
were not always excellent, but they abounded in his brain. This one, however,
obtained the approval of the wise Frascolin.

“My friends,” said he, “why
should not what succeeded with a bear succeed with a Californian village? We
tamed the plantigrade with a little music; let us wake up these rustics with a
vigorous concert, in which we will not spare either the
or the

“We might try that,” replied

Zorn did not wait for Pinchinat
to finish. His case was opened, his ‘cello upright on its steel point, for he
had no seat, his bow in hand, ready to extract all the human voices stored up
in the sonorous carcase.

Almost immediately his comrades
were ready to follow him to the utmost limits of their art.

“Onslow’s quartette, in B flat,”
said he. “Come.”

Onslow’s Quartette they knew by
heart, and good instrumentalists did not want to see clearly to use their skilful
fingers on the ‘cello, the violins, and the alto.

Behold them given up to their
inspiration. Never perhaps have they played with more talent and more soul in
the concert halls and theatres of the American Union. Space is filled with
sublime harmony, and unless they were deaf how could human beings resist it?
Had it been a cemetery, as Yvernès pretended, the tombs would have opened at
the music’s charm, the dead would have risen, and the skeletons clapped hands.

But none of the houses opened;
the sleepers did not awake. The piece ended in its powerful
, yet
Freschal gave no sign of life.

“Ah!” exclaimed Zorn, in a fury. “Is
it like that? They want a serenade like their bears for their savage ears? Be
it so! Let us have it over again; but you, Yvernès; play in D; you, Frascolin,
in E; you, Pinchinat, in G. I will keep to B flat! and now then, with all your

What cacophony! What ear-torture!
It was as bad as the improvised orchestra directed by the Prince de Joinville
in an unknown village in Brazil. It seemed as though they were playing Wagner
backwards on “vinai-griuses.”

Pinchinat’s idea was excellent.
What admirable execution could not obtain this absurdity did. Freschal began to
awake. Lights appeared. Windows opened here and there. The natives of the
village were not dead, for they gave signs of life. They were not deaf, for
they heard and listened.

“They are. going to throw apples
at us,” said Pinchinat, during a pause, for the time throughout had been
scrupulously kept.

“So much the better,” said the
practical Frascolin, “we will eat them.”

And at Zorn’s command the players
suddenly shifted into their proper key, and ended with a perfect chord of four
different notes.

No! They were not apples that
came from the twenty or thirty open windows, but plaudits and cheers. Never had
the Freschalian ears been filled with such musical delights! And there could be
no doubt that every house was ready to receive with hospitality such
incomparable virtuosos.

But while they were engaged in
their performance, a spectator had approached them within a few yards without
being seen. This personage had descended from a sort of electrical tram-car at
one angle of the square. He was a man of tall stature, and somewhat corpulent,
so far as could be judged in the darkness.

While our Parisians were asking
if, after the windows the doors of the houses were going to open to receive

appeared at least to be rather uncertain

the new arrival approached, and said, in an amiable tone,

“I am a dilettante, gentlemen,
and I have the very great pleasure of applauding you.”

“For our last piece?” replied
Pinchinat, ironically.

“No, gentlemen, for the first. I
have seldom heard Onslow’s Quartette given with more talent.”

The personage was evidently a

“Sir,” said Sebastien Zorn, in
the name of his companions, “we are much pleased by your compliments. If our
second piece tortured your ears, it is

“Sir,” replied the unknown,
interrupting a phrase that might have been a long one, “I have never heard a thing
played out of tune with so much precision. But I understand why you did it. It
was to wake up the natives of Freschal, who have already gone to sleep again.
Well, gentlemen, what you endeavoured to obtain from them by this desperate
means permit me to offer you.”

“Hospitality?” demanded

“Yes, hospitality. Unless I am
mistaken I have before me the Quartette Party renowned throughout our superb
America, which is never stingy in its enthusiasm.”

“Sir,” said Frascolin, “we are
indeed flattered. And

hospitality, where can we find it, thanks to you?”

“Two miles from here.”

“In another village?”

“No, in a town.”

“A town of importance?”


“Allow me,” observed Pinchinat. “We
were told that there were no towns until we got to San Diego.”

“It is a mistake

which I cannot

“A mistake?” repeated Frascolin.

“Yes, gentlemen, and if you will
accompany me I promise you a welcome such as artistes of your class are
entitled to.”

“I am of opinion that we should
accept it,” said Yvernès.

“And I share that opinion,” said

“One moment!” said Zorn, “do not
go faster than the leader of the orchestra.”

“Which means?” asked the

“That we are expected at San
Diego,” replied Frascolin.

“At San Diego,” added the ‘cellist,
“where the city has engaged us for a series of musical matinees, the first of
which is to take place on Sunday afternoon.”

“Ah!” replied the personage, in a
tone that betrayed extreme annoyance.

Then he continued,

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