According to the advice forwarded from the members of the Observatory, the gun destined to launch the projectile had to be fixed in a country situated between the O and 28th degrees of north or south latitude, in order to aim at the moon when at the zenith; and its initiatory velocity was fixed at twelve thousand yards to the second. Launched on the 1st of December, at 10hrs. 46m. 40s p.m., it ought to reach the moon four days after its departure, that is on the 5th of December, at midnight precisely, at the moment of her attaining her perigee, that is her nearest distance from the earth, which is exactly 86,410 leagues (French), or 238,833 miles mean distance (English).
The principal members of the Gun Club, President Barbicane, Major Elphinstone, the secretary Joseph T. Maston, and other learned men, held several meetings, at which the shape and composition of the projectile were discussed, also the position and nature of the gun, and the quality and quantity of the powder to be used. It was decided: 1st, that the projectile should be a shell made of aluminum with a diameter of 108 inches and a thickness of twelve inches to its walls; and should weigh 19,2501bs. 2ndly, that the gun should be a Columbiad cast in iron, 900 feet long, and run perpendicularly into the earth. 3rdly, that the charge should contain 400,000 pounds of gun-cotton, which, giving out six billions of litres of gas in rear of the projectile, would easily carry it towards the orb of night.
These questions determined President Barbicane, assisted by Murchison the engineer, to choose a spot situated in Florida, in 27' 7' North latitude, and 77' 3' W. (Greenwich) longitude. It was on this spot, after stupendous labour, that the Columbiad was cast with full success. Things stood thus, when an incident took place which increased the interest attached to this great enterprise a hundredfold.
A Frenchman, an enthusiastic Parisian, as witty as he was bold, asked to be enclosed in the projectile, in order that he might reach the moon, and reconnoitre this terrestrial satellite. The name of this intrepid adventurer was Michel Ardan. He landed in America, was received with enthusiasm, held meetings, saw himself carried in triumph, reconciled President Barbicane to his mortal enemy, Captain Nicholl, and, as a token of reconciliation, persuaded them both to start with him in the projectile. The proposition being accepted, the shape of the projectile was slightly altered. It was made of a cylindro-conical form. This species of aerial car was lined with strong springs and partitions to deaden the shock of departure. It was provided with food for a year, water for some months, and gas for some days. A self-acting apparatus supplied the three travellers with air to breathe. At the same time, on one of the highest points of the Rocky Mountains, the Gun Club had a gigantic telescope erected, in order that they might be able to follow the course of the projectile through space. All was then ready.
On the 30th November, at the hour fixed upon, from the midst of an extraordinary crowd of spectators, the departure took place, and for the first time, three human beings quitted the terrestrial globe, and launched into interplanetary space with almost a certainty of reaching their destination. These bold travellers, Michel Ardan, President Barbicane, and Captain Nicholl, ought to make the passage in ninety-seven hours, thirteen minutes, and twenty seconds. Consequently, their arrival on the lunar disc could not take place until the 5th December at twelve at night, at the exact moment when the moon should be full, and not on the 4th, as some badly-informed journals had announced.
But an unforeseen circumstance, viz., the detonation produced by the Columbiad, had the immediate effect of troubling the terrestrial atmosphere by accumulating s large quantity of vapour, a phenomenon which excited universal indignation, for the moon was hidden from the eyes of the watchers for several nights.
The worthy Joseph T. Maston, the staunchest friend of the three travellers, started for the Rocky Mountains, accompanied by the Hon. J. Belfast, director of the Cambridge Observatory, and reached the station of Long's Peak, where the telescope was erected which brought the moon within an apparent distance of two leagues. The hon. secretary of the Gun Club wished himself to observe the vehicle of his daring friends.
The accumulation of clouds in the atmosphere prevented all observations on the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th of December. Indeed it was thought that all observations would have to be put off to the 3rd of January in the following year; for the moon entering its last quarter on the 11th, would then only present an ever-decreasing portion of her disc, insufficient to allow of their following the course of the projectile.
At length, to the general satisfaction, a heavy storm cleared the atmosphere on the night of the 11th and 12th December, and the moon, with half illuminated disc, was plainly to be seen upon the black sky.
That very night, a telegram was sent from the station of Long's Peak by Joseph T. Maston and Belfast to the gentlemen of the Cambridge Observatory, announcing that, on the 11th of December at 8h. 47m. p.m., the projectile launched by the Columbiad of Stones Hill had been detected by Messrs. Belfast and Maston, -that it had deviated from its course from some unknown cause, and had not reached its destination; but that it had passed near enough to be retained by the lunar attraction; that its rectilinear movement had been changed to a circular one, and that following an elliptical orbit round the star of night it had become its satellite. The telegram added that the elements of this new star had not yet been calculated; and indeed three observations made upon a star in three different positions, are necessary to determine these elements. Then it showed that the distance separating the projectile from the lunar surface "might" be reckoned at about 2833 miles.
It ended with this double hypothesis; either the attraction of the moon would draw it to herself, and the travellers thus attain their end; or that the projectile, held in one immutable orbit, would gravitate around the lunar disc to all eternity.
With such alternatives, what would be the fate of the travellers?
Certainly they had food for some time. But supposing they did succeed in their rash enterprise, how would they return ? Could they ever return? Should they hear from them ? These questions, debated by the most learned pens of the day, strongly engrossed the public attention.
It is advisable here to make a remark which ought to be well considered by hasty observers. When a purely speculative discovery is announced to the public, it cannot be done with too much prudence. No one is obliged to discover either a planet, a comet, or a satellite; and whoever makes a mistake in such a case exposes himself justly to the derision of the mass. Far better is it to wait; and that is what the impatient Joseph T. Maston should have done before sending this telegram forth to the world, which, according to his idea, told the whole result of the enterprise. Indeed this telegram contained two sorts of errors, as was proved eventually. 1st, errors of observation, concerning tile distance of the projectile from the surface of tile moon, for on the 11th December it was impossible to see it; and what Joseph T. Maston had seen, or thought he saw, could not have been the projectile of the Columbiad. 2ndly, errors of theory on the fate in store for the said projectile; for in making it a satellite of the moon, it was putting it in direct contradiction to all mechanical laws.
One single hypothesis of the observers of Long's Peak could ever be realized, that which foresaw the case of the travellers (if still alive) uniting their efforts with the lunar attraction to attain the surface of the disc.
Now these men, as clever as they wore daring, had survived the terrible shock consequent on their departure, end it is their journey in the projectile car which is here related in its most dramatic as well as in its most singular details. This recital will destroy many illusions and surmises; but it will give a true idea of the singular changes in store for such an enterprise; it will bring out the scientific instincts of Barbicane, the industrious resources of Nicholl, and the audacious humour of Michel Ardan.
Besides this, it will prove that their worthy friend, Joseph T. Maston, was wasting his time, while leaning over the gigantic telescope he watched the course of the moon through the starry space.
The three travellers approached the orifice of the enormous castiron tube, and a crane let them down to the conical top of the projectile. There, an opening made for the purpose gave them access to the aluminum car. The tackle belonging to the crane being hauled from outside, the mouth of the Columbiad was instantly disencumbered of its last supports.
Nicholl, once introduced with his companions inside the projectile, began to close the opening by means of a strong plate, held in position by powerful screws. Other plates, closely fitted, covered the lenticular glasses, and the travellers, hermetically enclosed in their metal prison, were plunged in profound darkness.
"And now, my dear companions," said Michel Ardan, "let us make ourselves at home; I am a domesticated man and strong in housekeeping. We are bound to make the best of' our new lodgings, and make ourselves comfortable. And first let us try and see a little. Gas was not invented for moles."
So saying, the thoughtless fellow lit a match by striking it on the sole of his boot; end approached the burner fixed to the receptacle, in which the carbonized hydrogen, stored at high pressure, sufficed for the lighting and warming of the projectile for a hundred and forty-four hours, or six days and six nights. The gas caught fire, and thus lighted the projectile looked like a comfortable room with thickly padded walls, furnished with a circular divan, and a roof rounded in the shape of a dome.
The objects it contained, arms, instruments, and utensils securely fastened against the rounds of wadding, could bear the shock of departure with impunity. Humanly speaking, every possible precaution bud been taken to bring this rash experiment to a successful termination.
Michel Ardan examined everything, and declared himself satisfied with his installation. "It is a prison," said he, "but a travelling prison; and, with the right of putting my nose to the window, I could well stand a lease of a hundred years. You smile, Barbicane. Have you any arriere -pensee ? Do you say to yourself, 'This prison may be our tomb'? Tomb, perhaps; still I would not change it, for Mahomet's, which floats in space, but never advances an inch !"
Whilst Michel Ardan was speaking, Barbicane and Nicholl were making their last preparations.
Nicholl's chronometer marked twenty minutes past ten p.m. when the three travellers were finally enclosed in their projectile. This chronometer was set within the tenth of a second by that of Murchison the engineer. Barbicane consulted it.
"My friends," said he, "it is twenty minutes past ten. At forty-seven minutes past ten Murchison will launch the electric spark on the wire which communicates with the charge of the Columbiad. At that precise moment we shall leave our spheroid. Thus we have still twenty-seven minutes to remain on the earth."
"Twenty-six minutes thirteen seconds," replied the methodical Nicholl.
"Well!" exclaimed Michel Ardan, in a good-humoured tone, " much may be done in twenty-six minutes. The gravest questions of morals and politics may be discussed, and even solved. Twenty-six minutes well employed are worth more than twenty-six years in which nothing is done. Some seconds of a Pascal or B Newton are more precious than the whole existence of a crowd of raw simpletons--".
"And you conclude, then, you everlasting talker?" asked Barbicane.
"I conclude that we have twenty-six minutes left," replied Ardan.
"Twenty-four only," said Nicholl.
"Well, twenty-four, if you like, my noble captain," said Ardan; "twenty-four minutes in which to investigate-"
"Michel," said Barbicane, "during the passage we shall have plenty of time to investigate the most difficult questions. For the present we must occupy ourselves with our departure."
"Are we not ready ?"
"Doubtless; but there are still some precautions to be taken, to deaden as much as possible the first shock."
"Have we not the water-cushions placed between the partition-breaks, whose elasticity will sufficiently protect us?"
"I hope so, Michel," replied Barbicane gently, "but I am not sure."
"Ah, the joker ! " exclaimed Michel Ardan. " He hopes! --He is not sure!-- and he waits for the moment when we are encased to make this deplorable admission I beg to be allowed to get out!"
"And how ?" asked Barbicane.
"Humph!" said Michel Ardan, "it is not easy; we are in the train, and the guard's whistle will sound before twenty-four minutes are over."
"Twenty," said Nicholl.
For some moments the three travellers looked at each other. Then they began to examine the objects imprisoned with them.
"Everything is in its place," said Barbicane. "We have now to decide how we can best place ourselves to resist the shock. Position cannot be an indifferent matter; and we must, as much as possible, prevent the rush of blood to the head."
"Just so," said Nicholl.
"Then," replied Michel Ardan, ready to suit the action to the word, "let us put our heads down and our feet in the air, like the clowns in the grand circus."
"No," said Barbicane, "let us stretch ourselves on our sides; we shall resist the shock better that way. Remember that, when the projectile starts, it matters little whether we are in it or before it; it amounts to much the same thing."
"If it is only 'much the same thing,' I may cheer up," said Michel Ardan.
"Do you approve of my idea, Nicholl ?" asked Barbicane.
"Entirely," replied the captain. " We've still thirteen minutes and a half."
"That Nicholl is not a man," exclaimed Michel; "he is a chronometer with seconds, an escape, and eight holes."
But his companions were not listening; they were taking up their last positions with the most perfect coolness. They were like two methodical travellers in a car, seeking to place themselves as comfortably as possible.
We might well ask ourselves of what materials are the hearts of these Americans made, to whom the approach of the most frightful danger added no pulsation.
Three thick and solidly-made couches had been placed in the projectile. Nicholl and Barbicane placed them in the centre of the disc forming the floor. There the three travellers were to stretch themselves some moments before their departure.
During this time, Ardan, not being able to keep still, turned in his narrow prison like a wild beast in a cage, chatting with his friends, speaking to the dogs Diana and Satellite, to whom, as may be seen, he had given significant names.
"Ah, Diana! Ah, Satellite!" he exclaimed, teazing them; "so you are going to show the moon-dogs the good habits of the dogs of the earth! That will do honour to the canine race! If ever we do come down again, I will bring a cross type of 'moondogs,' which will make a stir!"
"If there are dogs in the moon," said Barbicane.
"There are," said Michel Ardan, "just as there are horses, cows, donkeys, and chickens. I bet that we shall find chickens."
"A hundred dollars we shall find none!" said Nicholl.
"Done, my captain!" replied Ardan, clasping Nicholl's hand. "But, by the bye, you have already lost three bets with our president, as the necessary funds for the enterprise have been found, as the operation of casting has been successful, and lastly, as the Columbiad has been loaded without accident, six thousand dollars."
"Yes," replied Nicholl. " Thirty-seven minutes six seconds past ten."
"It is understood, captain. Well, before another quarter of an hour you will have to count 9000 dollars to the president ; 4000 because the Columbiad will not burst, and 5000 because the projectile will rise more than six miles in the air."
"I have the dollars," replied Nicholl, slapping the pocket of his coat. I only ask to be allowed to pay."
"Come; Nicholl, I see that you are a man of method, which I could never be ; but indeed you have made a series of bets of very little advantage to yourself, allow me to tell you."
"And why ?" asked Nicholl.
"Because, if you gain the first, the Columbiad will have burst, and the projectile with it; and Barbicane will no longer be there to reimburse your dollars."
"My stake is deposited at the bank in Baltimore," replied Barbicane simply; "and if Nicholl is not there, it will go to his heirs."
"Ah, you practical men!" exclaimed Michel Ardan; "I admire you the more for not being able to understand you."
"Forty-two minutes past ten!" said Nicholl.
"Only five minutes more!" answered Barbicane.
"Yes, five little minutes!" replied Michel Ardan; "and we are enclosed in a projectile, at the bottom of a gun 900 feet long! And under this projectile are rammed 400,000 lbs. of gun-cotton, which is equal to 1,600,0001bs. of ordinary powder! And friend Murchison, with his chronometer in hand, his eye fixed on the needle, his finger on the electric apparatus, is counting the seconds preparatory to launching us into interplanetary space."
"Enough, Michel, enough !" said Barbicane, in a serious voice; "let us prepare. A few instants alone separate us from an eventful moment. One clasp of the hand, my friends."
"Yes," exclaimed Michel Ardan, more moved than he wished to appear; and the three bold companions were united in a last embrace.
"God preserve us!" said the religious Barbicane.
Michel Ardan and Nicholl stretched themselves on tile couch placed in the centre of the disc.
"Forty seven minutes past ten !" murmured the captain.
"Twenty seconds more !" Barbicane quickly put out the gas and lay down by his companions, and the profound silence was only broken by the ticking of the chronometer marking the seconds.
Suddenly a dreadful shock was felt, and the projectile, under the force of six billions of litres of gas, developed by the combustion of the pyroxyle, mounted into space.
Nothing then. The darkness was profound. But its cylindro-conical partitions had resisted wonderfully. Not a rent or a dent anywhere! The wonderful projectile was not even heated under the intense deflagration of the powder, nor liquified, as they seemed to fear, in a shower of aluminum.
The interior showed but little disorder; indeed, only a few objects had been violently thrown towards the roof; but the most important seemed not to have suffered from the shock at all; their fixtures were intact.
On the movable disc, sunk down to the bottom by the smashing of the partition-breaks and the escape of the water, three bodies lay apparently lifeless Barbicane, Nicholl, and Michel Ardan -- did they still breathe? or was the projectile nothing now but a metal coffin, bearing three corpses into space ?
Some minutes after the departure of the projectile, one of the bodies moved, shook its arms, lifted its head, and Finally succeeded in getting on its knees. It was Michel Ardan. He felt himself all over, gave a sonorous "Hem !" and then said, --
"Michel Ardan is whole. How about the others?"
The courageous Frenchman tried to rise, but could not stand. His head swam, from the rush of blood; he was blind; he was like a drunken man.
" Bur-r !" said he. "It produces the same effect as two bottles of Corton, though perhaps less agreeable to swallow." Then, passing his hand several times across his forehead and rubbing his temples, he called in a firm voice, --
He waited anxiously. No answer; not even a sigh to show that the hearts of his companions were still beating. Ho called again. The same silence.
" The devil !" he exclaimed. They look as if they had fallen from a fifth story on their heads. Bah!" he added, with that imperturbable confidence which nothing could check, "if a Frenchman can get on his knees, two Americans ought to be able to get on their feet. But first let us light up."
Ardan felt the tide of life return by degrees. His blood became calm, and returned to its accustomed circulation. another effort restored his equilibrium. He succeeded in rising, drew a match from his pocket, and approaching the burner lighted it. The receiver had not suffered at all. The gas had not escaped. Besides, the smell would have betrayed it; and in that case Michel Ardan could not have carried a lighted match with impunity through the space filled with hydrogen. The gas mixing with the air would have produced a detonating mixture, and the explosion would have finished what the shock had perhaps begun. When the burner was lit, Ardan leaned over the bodies of his companions; they were lying one on the other, an inert mass, Nicholl above, Barbicane underneath.
Ardan lifted the captain, propped him up against the divan, and began to rub vigorously. This means, used with judgement, restored Nicholl, who opened his eyes, and instantly recovering his presence of mind, seized Ardan's hand and looked around him.
"And Barbicane?" said he.
"Each in turn," replied Michel Ardan. "I began with you, Nicholl, because you were on the top. Now let us look to Barbicane." Saying which, Ardan and Nicholl raised the president of the Gun Club and laid him on the divan. He seemed to have suffered more than either of his companions; he was bleeding, but Nicholl was reassured by finding that the hemorrhage came from a slight wound on the shoulder, a mere graze, which he bound up carefully.
Still, Barbicane was a long time coming to himself, which frightened his friends, who did not spare friction.
"He breathes though," said Nicholl, putting his ear to the chest of the wounded man.
"Yes," replied Ardan, "he breathes like a man who has some notion of that daily operation. Rub, Nicholl; let us rub harder." And the two improvised practitioners worked so hard and so well that Barbicane recovered his senses. He opened his eyes, sat up, took his two friends by the hands, and his first words were --
"Nicholl, are we moving?"
Nicholl and Barbicane looked at each other; they had not yet troubled themselves about the projectile; their first thoughts had been for the traveller, not for the car.
"Well, are we really moving?" repeated Michel Ardan.
"Or quietly resting on the soil of Florida?" asked Nicholl.
"Or at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico?" added Michel Ardan.
"What an idea!" exclaimed the president.
And this double hypothesis suggested by his companions had the effect of recalling him to his senses. In any case they could not yet decide on the position of the projectile. Its apparent immovability, and the want of communication with the outside, prevented them from solving the question. Perhaps the projectile was unwinding its course through space. Perhaps after a short rise it had fallen upon the earth, or even in the Gulf of Mexico -- a fall which the narrowness of the peninsula of Florida would render not impossible.
The case was serious, the problem interesting, and one that must be solved as soon as possible. Thus, highly excited, Barbicane's moral energy triumphed over physical weakness, and he rose to his feet. He listened. Outside was perfect silence; but the thick padding was enough to intercept all sounds coming from the earth. But one circumstance struck Barbicane, viz., that the temperature inside the projectile was singularly high. The president drew a thermometer from its case, and consulted it. The instrument showed 81( Fahr.
"Yes," he exclaimed, "yes, we are moving! This stifling, penetrating through the partitions of the projectile, is produced by its friction on the atmospheric strata. It will soon diminish, because we are already floating in space, and after having been nearly stifled, we shall have to suffer intense cold.
"What!" said Michel Ardan. "According to your showing, Barbicane, we are already beyond the limits of the terrestrial atmosphere?"
"Without a doubt, Michel. Listen to me. It is fifty-five minutes past ten; we have been gone about eight minutes; and if our initiatory speed has not been checked by friction, six seconds would be enough for us to pass through the forty miles of atmosphere which surrounds the globe."
"Just so," replied Nicholl; "but in what proportion do you estimate the diminution of speed by friction?"
"In the proportion of one-third, Nicholl. This diminution is considerable, but according to my calculations it is nothing less. If, then, we had an initiatory speed of 12,000 yards. In any case we have already passed through this interval, and --"
"And then," said Michel Ardan, "friend Nicholl has lost his two bets: four thousand dollars because the Columbiad did not burst; five thousand dollars because the projectile has risen more than six miles. Now, Nicholl, pay up."
"Let us prove it first," said the captain, "and we will pay afterwards. It is quite possible that I have lost my nine thousand dollars. But a new hypothesis presents itself to my mind, and it annuls the wager."
"What is that?" asked Barbicane quickly.
"The hypothesis that, for some reason or other, fire was never set to the powder, we have not started at all."
"My goodness, captain," exclaimed Michel Ardan, "that hypothesis is worthy of my brain! It cannot be a serious one. For have we not been half annihilated by the shock? Did I not recall you to life? Is not the president's shoulder still bleeding from the blow it has received?"
"Granted," replied Nicholl; "but one question."
"Did you hear the detonation, which certainly ought to be loud?"
"No," replied Ardan, much surprised; "certainly I did not hear the detonation."
"And you, Barbicane?"
"Nor I, either."
"Very well," said Nicholl.
"Well now," murmured the president, "why did we not hear the detonation?"
The three friends looked at each other with a disconcerted air. It was quite an inexplicable phenomenon. The projectile had started, and consequently there must have been a detonation.
"Let us first find out where we are," said Barbicane, "and get down the panel."
This very simple operation was soon accomplished.
The nuts which the bolts to the outer plates of the righthand scuttle gave way under the pressure of the English wrench. These bolts were pushed outside, and buffers covered with indiarubber stopped the holes which let them through. Immediately the outer plate fell back upon its hinges like a porthole, and the lenticular glass which closed the scuttle appeared. A similar one was let into the thick partition on the opposite side of the projectile, another in the top of the dome, and finally, a fourth in the middle of the base. They could, therefore, make observations in four different directions: the firmament by the side and most direct windows, the earth or the moon by the upper and under openings in the projectile.
Barbicane and his two companions immediately rushed to the uncovered window. But it was lit by no ray of light. Profound darkness surrounded them, which, however, did not prevent the president from exclaiming, --
"No, my friends, we have not fallen back upon the earth; no, nor are we submerged in the Gulf of Mexico. Yes! we are mounting into space. See those stars shining in the night, and that impenetrable darkness heaped up between the earth and us!"
"Hurrah! hurrah!" exclaimed Michel Ardan and Nicholl in one voice.
Indeed, this thick darkness proved that the projectile had left the earth, for the soil, brilliantly lit by the moonbeams, would have been visible to the travellers, if they had been lying on its surface. This darkness also showed that the projectile had passed the atmospheric strata, for the diffused light spread in the air would have been reflected on the metal walls, which reflection was wanting. This light would have lit the window, and the window was dark. Doubt was no longer possible; the travellers had left the earth.
"I have lost," said Nicholl.
"I congratulate you," replied Ardan.
"Here are the nine thousand dollars," said the captain, drawing a roll of paper dollars from his pocket.
"Will you have a receipt for it?" asked Barbicane, taking the sum.
"If you do not mind," answered Nicholl; "it is more businesslike."
And coolly and seriously, as if he had been at his strong-box, the president drew forth his note-book, tore out a blank leaf, wrote a proper receipt in pencil, dated and signed it with the usual flourish,  and gave it to the captain, who carefully placed it in hiss pocketbook. Michel Ardan, taking off his hat, bowed to his two companions without speaking. So much formality under such circumstances left him speechless. He had never before seen anything so "American."
This affair settled, Barbicane and Nicholl had returned to the window, and were watching the constellations. The stars looked like bright points on the black sky. But from that side they could not see the orb of night, which, travelling from east to west, would rise by degrees towards the zenith. Its absence drew the following remark from Ardan.
"And the moon; will she perchance fail at our rendezvous?"
"Do not alarm yourself," said Barbicane; "our future globe is at its post, but we cannot see her from this side; let us open the other."
As Barbicane was about leaving the window to open the opposite scuttle, his attention was attracted by the approach of a brilliant object. It was an enormous disc, whose colossal dimension could not be estimated. Its face, which was turned to the earth, was very bright. One might have thought it a small moon reflecting the light of the larger one. She advanced with great speed, and seemed to describe an orbit around the earth, which would intersect the passage of the projectile. This body revolved upon its axis, and exhibited the phenomena of all celestial bodies abandoned in space.
"Ah!" exclaimed Michel Ardan, "what is that? another projectile?"
Barbicane did not answer. The appearance of this enormous body surprised and troubled him. A collision was possible, and might be attended with deplorable results; either the projectile would deviate from its path, or a shock, breaking its impetus, might precipitate it to the earth; or, lastly, it might be irresistibly drawn away by the powerful asteroid. The president caught at a glance the consequences of these three hypotheses, either of which would, one way or the other, bring their experiment to an unsuccessful and fatal termination. His companions stood silently looking into space. The object grew rapidly as it approached them, and by an optical illusion the projectile seemed to be throwing itself before it.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Michel Ardan, "we shall run into one another!"
Instinctively the travellers drew back. Their dread was great, but it did not last many seconds. The asteroid passed several hundred yards from the projectile and disappeared, not so much from the rapidity of its course, as that its face being opposite the moon, it was suddenly merged in to the perfect darkness of space.
"A happy journey to you," exclaimed Michel Ardan, with a sigh of relief. "Surely infinity of space is large enough for a poor little projectile to walk through without fear. Now, what is this portentous globe which nearly struck us?"
"I know," replied Barbicane.
"Oh, indeed! you know everything."
"It is," said Barbicane, "a simple meteorite, but an enormous one, which the attraction of the earth has retained as a satellite."
"Is it possible!" exclaimed Michel Ardan; "the earth then has two moons like Neptune?"
"Yes, my friend, two moons, though it passes generally for having only one; but this second moon is so small, and its speed so great, that the inhabitants of the earth cannot see it. It was by noticing disturbances that a French astronomer, M. Petit, was able to determine the existence of this second satellite and calculate its elements. According to his observations, this meteorite will accomplish its revolution round the earth in three hours and twenty minutes, which implies a wonderful rate of speed."
"Do all astronomers admit the existence of this satellite?" asked Nicholl.
"No," replied Barbicane; "but if, like us, they had met it, they could no longer doubt it. Indeed, I think that this meteorite, which, had it struck the projectile, would have much embarrassed us, will give us the means of deciding what our position in space is."
"How?" asked Ardan.
"Because its distance is known, and when we met it, we were exactly 4650 miles from the surface of the terrestrial globe.
"More than 2000 French leagues," exclaimed Michel Ardan. "That beats the express trains of the pitiful globe called the earth."
"I should think so," replied Nicholl, consulting his chronometer; "it is eleven o'clock, and it is only thirteen minutes since we left the American Continent."
"Only thirteen minutes?" said Barbicane.
"Yes," said Nicholl; "and if our initiatory speed of 12,000 yards has been kept up, we shall have made about 20,000 miles in the hour."
"That is all very well, my friends," said the president, "but the insoluble question still remains. Why did we not hear the detonation of the Columbiad?"
For want of an answer the conversation dropped, and Barbicane began thoughtfully to let down the shutter of the second side. He succeeded; and through the uncovered glass the moon filled the projectile with a brilliant light. Nicholl, as an economical man, put out the gas, now useless, and whose brilliancy prevented any observation of the interplanetary space.
The lunar disc shone with wonderful purity. Her rays, no longer filtered through the vapoury atmosphere of the terrestrial globe, shone through the glass, filling the air in the interior of the projectile with silvery reflections. The black curtain of the firmament in reality heightened the moon's brilliancy, which in this void of ether unfavourable to diffusion did not eclipse the neighbouring stars. The heavens, thus seen, presented quite a new aspect, and one which the human eye could never dream of. One may conceive the interest with which these bold men watched the orb of the night, the great aim of their journey.
In its motion the earth's satellite was insensibly nearing the zenith, the mathematical point which it ought to attain ninety-six hours later. Her mountains, her plains, every projection was as clearly discernible to their eyes as if they were observing it from some spot upon the earth; but its light was developed through space with wonderful intensity. The disc shone like a platinum mirror. Of the earth flying from under their feet, the travellers has lost all recollection.
It was Captain Nicholl who first recalled their attention to the vanishing globe.
"Yes," said Michel Ardan, "do not let us be ungrateful to it. Since we are leaving our country, let our last looks be directed to it. I wish to see the earth once more before it is quite hidden from my eyes."
To satisfy his companions, Barbicane began to uncover the window at the bottom of the projectile, which would allow them to observe the earth direct. The disc, which the force of the projection had beated down to the base, was removed, not without difficulty. Its fragments, placed carefully against the wall, might serve again upon occasion. Then a circular gap appeared, nineteen inches in diameter, hollowed out of the lower part of the projectile. A glass cover, six inches thick and strengthened with upper fastenings, closed it tightly. Beneath was fixed an aluminum plate, held in place by bolts. The screws being undone, and the bolts let go, the plate fell down, and visible communication was established between the interior and the exterior.
Michel Ardan knelt by the glass. It was cloudy, seemingly opaque.
"Well!" he exclaimed, "and the earth?"
"The earth?", said Barbicane. "There it is."
"What! that little thread; that silver crescent?"
"Doubtless, Michel. In four days, when the moon will be full, at the very time we shall reach it, the earth will be new, and will only appear to us as a slender crescent which will soon disappear, and for some days will be enveloped in utter darkness."
"That the earth?" repeated Michel Ardan, looking with all his eyes at the thin slip of his native planet.
The explanation given by President Barbicane was correct. The earth, with respect to the projectile, was entering its last phase. It was in its octant, and showed a crescent finely traced on the dark background of the sky. Its light, rendered bluish by the thick strata of the atmosphere, was less intense than that of the crescent moon, but it was of considerable dimensions, and looked like an enormous arch stretched across the firmament. Some parts brilliantly lighted, especially on its concave part, showed the presence of high mountains, often disappearing behind thick spots, which are never seen on the lunar disc. They were rings of clouds placed concentrically round the terrestrial globe.
Whilst the travellers were trying to pierce the profound darkness, a brilliant cluster of shooting stars burst upon their eyes. Hundreds of meteorites, ignited by the friction of the atmosphere, irradiated the shadow of the luminous train, and lined the cloudy parts of the disc with their fire. At this period the earth was in its perihelium, and the month of December is so propitious to these shooting stars, that astronomers have counted as many as twenty-four thousand in an hour. But Michel Ardan, disdaining scientific reasonings, preferred thinking that the earth was thus saluting the departure of her three children with her most brilliant fireworks.
Indeed this was all they saw of the globe lost in the shadow, an inferior orb of the solar world, rising and setting to the great planets like a simple morning or evening star! This globe, where they had left all their affections, was nothing more than a fugitive crescent!
Long did the three friends look without speaking, though united in heart, whilst the projectile sped onward with an ever decreasing speed. Then an irresistible drowsiness crept over their brain. Was it weariness both of body and mind? No doubt; for after the over-excitement of those last hours passed upon the earth, reaction was inevitable.
"Well," said Nicholl, "since we must sleep, let us sleep."
And stretching themselves on their couches, they were all three soon in a profound slumber.
But they had not forgotten themselves more than a quarter of an hour, when Barbicane sat up suddenly, and rousing his companions with a loud voice, exclaimed, --
"I have found it!"
"What have you found?" asked Michel Ardan, jumping from his bed.
"The reason why we did not hear the detonation of the Columbiad."
"And it is--?" said Nicholl.
"Because our projectile travelled faster than the sound!"
This change, which Barbicane verified, did not fail to surprise them. If the projectile was to gravitate round the satellite in an elliptical orbit, why was not its heaviest part turned towards it, as the moon turns hers to the earth? That was a difficult point.
In watching the course of the projectile they could see that on leaving the moon it followed a course analogous to that traced in approaching her. It was describing a very long ellipse, which would most likely extend to the point of equal attraction, where the influences of the earth and its satellite are neutralized.
Such was the conclusion which Barbicane very justly drew from facts already observed, a conviction which his two friends shared with him.
"And when arrived at this dead point, what will become of us?" asked Michel Ardan.
"We don't know," replied Barbicane.
"But one can draw some hypotheses, I suppose?"
"Two," answered Barbicane; "either the projectile's speed will be insufficient, and it will remain for ever immovable on this line of double attraction --"
"I prefer the other hypothesis, whatever it may be," interrupted Michel.
"Or," continued Barbicane, "its speed will be sufficient, and it will continue its elliptical course, to gravitate for ever around the orb of night."
"A revolution not at all consoling," said Michel, "to pass to the state of humble servants to a moon whom we are accustomed to look upon as our own handmaid. So that is the fate in store for us?"
Neither Barbicane nor Nicholl answered.
"You do not answer," continued Michel impatiently.
"There is nothing to answer," said Nicholl.
"Is there nothing to try?"
"No," answered Barbicane. "Do you pretend to fight against the impossible?"
"Why not?" Do one Frenchman and two Americans shrink from such a word?"
"But what would you do?"
"Subdue this motion which is bearing us away."
"Yes," continued Michel, getting animated, "or else alter it, and employ it to the accomplishment of our own ends."
"That is your affair. If artillerymen are not masters of their projectile they are not artillerymen. If the projectile is to command the gunner, we had better ram the gunner into the gun. My faith! fine savants! who do not know what is to become of us after inducing me--"
"Inducing you!" cried Barbicane and Nicholl. "Inducing you! What do you mean by that?"
"No recrimination," said Michel. "I do not complain; the trip has pleased me, the projectile agrees with me; but let us do all that is humanly possible to do to fall somewhere, even if only on the moon."
"We ask no better, my worthy Michel," replied Barbicane, "but means fail us."
"We cannot alter the motion of the projectile?"
"Nor diminish its speed?"
"Not even by lightening it, as they lighten an overloaded vessel?"
"What would you throw out?" said Nicholl. "We have no ballast on board; and indeed it seems to me that if lightened it would go much quicker."
"Neither slower no quicker," said Barbicane, wishing to make his two friends agree; "for we float in space, and must no longer consider specific weight."
"Very well," cried Michel Ardan in a decided voice; "then there remains but one thing to do."
"What is it?" said Nicholl.
"Breakfast," answered the cool, audacious Frenchman, who always brought up this solution at the most difficult juncture.
In any case, if this operation has no influence on the projectile's course, it could at least be tried without inconvenience, and even with success from a stomachic point of view. Certainly Michel had none but good ideas.
They breakfasted then at two in the morning; the hour mattered little. Michel served his usual repast, crowned by a glorious bottle drawn from his private cellar. If ideas did not crowd on their brains, we must despair of the Chambertin of 1853. The repast finished, observations began again. Around the projectile, at an invariable distance, were the objects which had been thrown out. Evidently, in its translatory motion round the moon, it had not passed through any atmosphere, for the specific weight of these different objects would have checked their relative speed.
On the side of the terrestrial sphere nothing was to be seen. The earth was but a day old, having been new the night before at twelve; and two days must elapse before its crescent, freed from the solar rays, would serve as a clock to the Selenites, as in its rotatory movement each of its points after twenty-four hours repasses the same lunar meridian.
On the moon's side the sight was different; the orb shone in all her splendour amidst innumerable constellations, whose purity could not be troubled by her rays. On the disc, the plains were already returning to the dark tint which is seen from the earth. The other part of the nimbus remained brilliant, and in the midst of this general brilliancy, Tycho shone prominently like a sun.
Barbicane had no means of estimating the projectile's speed, but reasoning showed that it must uniformly decrease, according to all the laws of mechanical reasoning. Having admitted that the projectile was describing an orbit around the moon, this orbit must necessarily be elliptical; science proves that it must be so. No motive body circulating round an attracting body fails in this law. Every orbit described in space is elliptical. And why should the projectile of the Gun Club escape this natural arrangement? In elliptical orbits, the attracting body always occupies one of the foci; so that at one moment the satellite is nearer, and at another farther from the orb around which it gravitates. When the earth is nearest the sun, she is in her perihelion; and in her aphelion at the farthest point. Speaking of the moon, she is nearest to the earth at her perigee, and farthest from it in her apogee. To use analogous expressions, with which the astronomers' language is enriched, if the projectile remains as a satellite of the moon, we must say that it is in its "aposelene" at its farthest point, and in its "periselene" at its nearest. In the latter case, the projectile would attain its maximum speed; and in the former its minimum. It was evidently moving towards its aposelenitical point; and Barbicane had reason to think that its speed would decrease up to this point, and then increase by degrees as it neared the moon. This speed would even become nil, if this point joined that of equal attraction. Barbicane studied the consequences of these different situations, and thinking what inference he could draw from them, when he was roughly disturbed by a cry from Michel Ardan.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed, 'I must admit we are downright simpletons!"
"I do not say we are not," replied Barbicane; "but why?"
"Because we have a very simple means of checking this speed which is bearing us from the moon, and we do not use it!"
"And what is the means?"
"To use the recoil contained in our rockets."
"Done!" said Nicholl.
"We have not used this force yet," said Barbicane, "it is true, but we will do so."
"When?" asked Michel.
"When the time comes. Observe, my friends, that in the position occupied by the projectile, an oblique position with regard to the lunar disc, our rockets, in slightly altering its direction, might turn it from the moon instead of drawing it nearer?"
"Just so," replied Michel.
"Let us wait, then. By some inexplicable influence, the projectile is turning its base towards the earth. It is probable that at the point of equal attraction, its conical cap will be directed rigidly towards the moon; at that moment we may hope that its speed will be nil; then will be the moment to act, and with the influence of our rockets, we may perhaps provoke a fall directly on the surface of the lunar disc."
"Bravo!" said Michel. "What we did not do, what we could not do on our first passage at the dead point, because the projectile was then endowed with too great a speed."
"Very well reasoned," said Nicholl.
"Let us wait patiently," continued Barbicane. "Putting every chance on our side, and after having so much despaired, I may say I think that we shall gain our end."
This conclusion was a signal for Michel Ardan's hips and hurrahs. And none of the audacious boobies remembered the question that they themselves had solved in the negative. No! the moon is not inhabited; no! the moon is probably not habitable. And yet they were going to try every thing to reach her.
One single question remained to be solved. At what precise moment the projectile would reach the point of equal attraction, on which the travellers must play their last card. In order to calculate this to within a few seconds, Barbicane had only to refer to his notes, and to reckon the different heights taken on the lunar parallels. Thus the time necessary to travel over the distance between the dead point and the south pole would be equal to the distance separating the north pole from the dead point. The hours representing the time travelled over were carefully noted, and the calculation was easy. Barbicane found that this point would be reached at one in the morning on the night of the 7th--8th of December. So that, if nothing interfered wit its course, it would reach the given point in twenty-two hours.
The rockets had primarily been placed to check the fall of the projectile upon the moon, and now they were going to employ them for a directly contrary purpose. In any case they were ready, and they had only to wait for the moment to set fire to them.
"Since there is nothing else to be done," said Nicholl, "I make a proposition."
"What is it?" asked Barbicane.
"I propose to go to sleep."
"What a motion!" exclaimed Michel Ardan.
"It is forty hours since we closed our eyes," said Nicholl. "Some hours of sleep will restore our strength."
"Never," interrupted Michel.
"Well, continued Nicholl, "every one to his taste; I shall go to sleep." And stretching himself on the divan, he soon snored like a forty-eight pounder.
"That Nicholl has a good deal of sense," said Barbicane, "presently I shall follow his example." Some moments after his continued base supported the captain's barytone.
"Certainly," said Michel Ardan, finding himself alone, "these practical people have sometimes most opportune ideas."
And with his long legs stretched out, and his great arms folded under his head, Michel slept in his turn.
But this sleep could be neither peaceful nor lasting, the minds of these three men were too much occupied, and some hours after, about seven in the morning, all three were on foot at the same instant.
The projectile was still leaving the moon, and turning its conical part more and more towards her.
An explicable phenomenon, but one which happily served Barbicane's ends.
Seventeen hours more, and the moment for action would have arrived.
The day seemed long. However bold the travellers might be, they were greatly impressed by the approach of that moment which would decide all -- either precipitate their fall on to the moon, or for ever chain them in an immutable orbit. They counted the hours as they passed too slow for their wish; Barbicane and Nicholl were obstinately plunged in their calculations, Michel going and coming between the narrow walls, and watching that impassive moon with a longing eye.
At times recollections of the earth crossed their minds. They saw once more their friends of the Gun Club, and the dearest of all, J.T. Maston. At that moment, the honourable secretary must be filling his post on the Rocky Mountains. If he could see the projectile through the glass of his gigantic telescope, what would he think? After seeing it disappear behind the moon's south pole, he would see them reappear by the north pole! They must therefore be a satellite of a satellite! Had J.T. Maston given this unexpected news to the world? Was this the denoument of this great enterprise?
But the day passed without incident. The terrestrial midnight arrived. The 8th of December was beginning. One hour more, and the point of equal attraction would be reached. What speed would then animate the projectile? They could not estimate it. But no error could vitiate Barbicane's calculations. At one in the morning, this speed ought to be and would be nil.
Besides, another phenomenon would mark the projectile's stopping-point on the neutral line. At that spot the two attractions, lunar and terrestrial, would be anulled. Objects would "weigh" no more. This singular fact, which had surprised Barbicane and his companions so much in going, would be repeated on their return under the very same conditions. At this precise moment they must act.
Already the projectile's conical top was sensibly turned towards the lunar disc, presented in such a way as to utilize the whole of the recoil produced by the pressure of the rocket apparatus. The chances were in favor of the travellers. If its speed was utterly anulled on this dead point, a decided movement towards the moon would suffice, however slight, to determine its fall.
"Five minutes to one," said Nicholl.
"All is ready," replied Michel Ardan, directing a lighted match to the flame of the gas.
"Wait!" said Barbicane, holding his chronometer in his hand.
At that moment weight had no effect. The travellers felt in themselves the entire disappearance of it. They were very near the neutral point, if they did not touch it.
"One o'clock," said Barbicane.
Michel Ardan applied the lighted match to a train in communication with the rockets. No detonation was heard inside, for there was no air. But, through the scuttles Barbicane saw a prolonged smoke, the flames of which were immediately extinguished.
The projectile sustained a certain shock, which was sensibly felt in the interior.
The three friends looked and listened without speaking, and scarcely breathing. One might have heard the beating of their hearts amidst this perfect silence.
"Are we falling?" asked Michel Ardan, at length.
"No," said Nicholl, "since the bottom of the projectile is not turning to the lunar disc!"
At this moment, Barbicane, quitting the scuttle, turned to his two companions. He was frightfully pale, his forehead wrinkled, and his lips contracted.
"We are falling!" said he.
"Ah!" cried Michel Ardan, "on the moon?"
"On to the earth!"
"The devil!" exclaimed Michel Ardan, adding philosophically, "well, when we came into this projectile we were very doubtful as to the ease with which we should get out of it!"
And now this fearful fall had begun. The speed retained had borne the projectile beyond the dead point. The explosion of the rockets could not divert its course. This speed in going had carried it over the neutral line, and in returning had done the same thing. The laws of physics condemned it to pass through every point which it had already gone through. It was a terrible fall, from a height of 160,000 miles, and no springs to break it. According to the laws of gunnery, the projectile must strike the earth with a speed equal to that which it left the mouth of the Columbiad, a speed of 16,000 yards in the last second.
But to give some figures of comparison, it has been reckoned that an object thrown from the top of the towers of Notre Dame, the height of which is only 200 feet, will arrive on the pavement at a speed of 240 miles per hour. Here the projectile must strike the earth with a speed of 115,200 miles per hour.
"We are lost!" said Michel coolly.
"Very well! if we die," answered Barbicane, with a sort of religious enthusiasm, "the result of our travels will be magnificently spread. It is His own secret that God will tell us! In the other life, the soul will want to know nothing, either of machines or engines! It will be identified with eternal wisdom!"
"In fact," interrupted Michel Ardan, "the whole of the other world may well console us for the loss of that inferior orb called the moon!"
Barbicane crossed his arms on his breast with a motion of sublime resignation, saying at the same time, --
"The will of heaven be done!"
"I think, sir, that the operation is nearing its completion," replied Lieutenant Bronsfield. "But who would have thought of finding such a depth so near in shore, and only 200 miles from the American coast?"
"Certainly, Bronsfield, there is a great depression," said Captain Blomsberry. "In this spot there is a submarine valley worn by Humboldt's current, which skirts the coast of America as far as the Straits of Magellan."
"These great depths," continued the lieutenant, "are not favourable for laying telephone cables. A level bottom, like that supporting the American cable between Valentia and Newfoundland, is much better."
"I agree with you, Bronsfield. With your permission, lieutenant, where are we now?"
"Sir, at this moment we have 3508 fathoms of line out, and the ball which draws the sounding lead has not yet touched the bottom; for if so, it would have come up of itself."
"Brook's apparatus is very ingenious," said Captain Blomsberry; "it gives us very exact soundings."
"Touch!" cried at this moment one of the men at the forewheel, who was superintending the operation.
The captain and the lieutenant mounted the quarter-deck.
"What depth have we?" asked the captain.
"Three thousand six hundred and twenty-seven fathoms," replied the lieutenant, entering it in his notebook.
"Well, Bronsfield," said the captain, "I will take down the result. Now haul in the sounding line. It will be the work of some hours. In that time the engineer can light the furnaces, and we shall be ready to start as soon as you have finished. It is ten o'clock, and with your permission, lieutenant, I will turn in."
"Do so, sir; do so!" replied the lieutenant obligingly.
The captain of the "Susquehanna," as brave a man as need be, and the humble servant of his officers, returned to his cabin, took a brandy-grog, which earned for the steward no end of praise, and turned in, not without having complimented his servant upon his making beds, and slept a peaceful sleep.
It was then ten at night. The eleventh day of the month of December was drawing to a close in a magnificent night.
The "Susquehanna," a corvette of 500 horse-power, of the United States' navy, was occupied in taking soundings in the Pacific Ocean about 200 miles off the American coast, following that long peninsula which stretches down the coast of New Mexico.
The wind had dropped by degrees. There was no disturbance in the air. Their pennant hung motionless from the maintop-gallant-mast truck.
Captain Jonathan Blomsberry (cousin-german of Colonel Blomsberry, one of the most ardent supporters of the Gun Club, who had married an aunt of the captain and daughter of a wealthy Kentucky merchant,) -- Captain Blomsberry could not have wished for finer weather in which to bring to a close his delicate operations of sounding. His corvette had not even felt the greatest tempest, which by sweeping away the groups of clouds on the Rocky Mountains, had allowed them to observe the course of the famous projectile.
Everything went well, and with all the fervor of a Presbyterian, he did not forget to thank heaven for it. The series of soundings taken by the "Susquehanna," had for its aim the finding of a favourable spot for the laying of a submarine cable to connect the Hawaiian Islands with the coast of America.
It was a great undertaking, due to the instigation of a powerful company. Its managing director, the intelligent Cyrus Field, purposed even covering all the islands of Oceania with a vast electrical network, an immense enterprise, and one worthy of American genius.
To the corvette, "Susquehanna," had been confided the first operations of sounding. It was on the night of the 11th--12th December, she was in exactly 27( 7' north lat., and 41( 37' west long., on the meridian of Washington.
The moon, then in her last quarter, was beginning to rise above the horizon.
After the departure of Captain Blomsberry, the lieutenant and some officers were standing together on the poop. On the appearance of the moon, their thoughts turned to that orb which the eyes of a whole hemisphere were contemplating. The best naval glasses could not have discovered the projectile wandering around its hemisphere, and yet all were pointed towards that brilliant disc which millions of eyes were looking at the same moment.
"They have been gone ten days," said Lieutenant Bronsfield at last. "What has become of them?"
"They have arrived, lieutenant," exclaimed a young midshipman, "and they are doing what all travellers do when they arrive in a new country, taking a walk!"
"Oh! I am sure of that, if you tell me so, my young friend," said Lieutenant Bronsfield, smiling.
"But," continued another officer, "their arrival cannot be doubted. The projectile was to reach the moon when full on the 5th at midnight. We are now at the 11th of December, which makes six days. And in six times twenty-four hours, without darkness, one would have time to settle comfortably. I fancy I see my brave countrymen encamped at the bottom of some valley, on the borders of Selenite stream, near a projectile half buried by its fall amidst volcanic rubbish, Captain Nicholl beginning his levelling operations, President Barbicane writing out his notes, and Michel Ardan embalming the lunar solitudes with the perfume of his --"
"Yes! it must be so, it is so!" exclaimed the young midshipman, worked up to a pitch of enthusiasm by this ideal description of his superior officer.
"I should like to believe it," replied the lieutenant, who was quite unmoved. "Unfortunately direct news from the lunar world is still wanting."
"Beg pardon, lieutenant," said the midshipman, "but cannot President Barbicane write?"
A burst of laughter greeted this answer.
"No letters!" continued the young man quickly. "The postal administration has something to see to there."
"Might it not be the telegraphic service that is at fault?" asked one of the officers ironically.
"Not necessarily," replied the midshipman, not at all confused. "But it is very easy to set up a graphic communication with the earth."
"By means of the telescope at Long's Peak. You know it brings the moon to within four miles of the Rocky Mountains, and that it shows objects on its surface of only nine feet in diameter. Very well; let our industrious friends construct a gigantic alphabet; let them write words three fathoms long, and sentences three miles long, and they can send us news of themselves?"
The young midshipman, who had a certain amount of imagination, was loudly applauded; Lieutenant Bronsfield allowing that the idea was possible, but observing that if by these means they could receive news from the lunar world they could not send any from the terrestrial, unless the Selenites had instruments fit for taking distant observations at their disposal.
"Evidently," said one of the officers; "but what has become of the travellers? what have they done, what have they seen, that above all must interest us. Besides, if the experiment has succeeded (which I do not doubt), they will try it again. The Columbiad is still sunk in the soil of Florida. It is now only a question of powder and shot; and every time the moon is at her zenith, a cargo of visitors may be sent to her."
"It is clear," replied Lieutenant Bronsfield, "that J.T. Maston will one day join his friends."
"If he will have me," cried the young midshipman, "I am ready!"
"Oh! volunteers will not be wanting," answered Bronsfield; "and if it were allowed, half of the earth's inhabitants would emigrate to the moon!"
This conversation between the officers of the "Susquehanna" was kept up until nearly one in the morning. We cannot say what blundering systems were broached, what inconsistent theories advanced by these bold spirits. Since Barbicane's attempt, nothing seemed impossible to the Americans. They had already designed an expedition, not only of savants, but of a whole colony towards the Selenite borders, and a complete army, consisting of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, to conquer the lunar world.
At one in the morning, the hauling in of the sounding-line was not yet completed; 1670 fathoms were still out, which would entail some hours' work. According to the commander's orders, the fires had been lighted, and steam was being got up. The "Susquehanna" could have started that very instant.
At that moment (it was seventeen minutes past one in the morning) Lieutenant Bronsfield was preparing to leave the watch and return to his cabin, when his attention was attracted by a distant hissing noise. His comrades and himself first thought that this hissing was caused by the letting off of steam; but lifting their heads, they found that the noise was produced in the highest regions of the air. They had not time to question each other before the hissing became frightfully intense, and suddenly there appeared to their dazzled eyes an enormous meteor, ignited by the rapidity of its course and its friction through the atmospheric strata.
This fiery mass grew larger to their eyes, and fell, with the noise of thunder, upon the bowsprit, which it smashed close to the stem, and buried itself in the waves with a deafening roar!
A few feet nearer and the "Susquehanna" would have foundered with all on board!
At this instant Captain Blomsberry appeared, half dressed, and rushing on the forecastle-deck, whither all the officers had hurried, exclaimed, "With your permission, gentlemen, what has happened?"
And the midshipman, making himself as it were the echo of the body, cried, "Commander, it is 'they' come back again!"
Barbicane, Michel Ardan, Nicholl, and the delegates of the Gun Club, returning without delay to Baltimore, were received with indescribable enthusiasm. The notes of President Barbicane's voyage were ready to be given to the public. The New York Herald bought the manuscript at a price not yet known, but which must have been very high. Indeed, during the publication of "A Journey to the Moon," the sale of this paper amounted to five millions of copies. Three days after the return of the travellers to the earth, the slightest detail of their expedition was known. There remained nothing more but to see the heroes of this superhuman enterprise.
The expedition of Barbicane and his friends round the moon had enabled them to correct the many admitted theories regarding the terrestrial satellite. These savants had observed de visu, and under particular circumstances. They knew what systems should be rejected, what retained with regard to the formation of that orb, its origin, its habitability. Its past, present, and future had even given up their last secrets. Who could advance objections against conscientious observers, who at less than twenty-four miles distance had marked that curious mountain of Tycho, the strangest system of lunar orography? How answer those savants whose sight had penetrated the abyss of Pluto's circle? How contradict those bold ones whom the chances of their enterprise had borne over that invisible face of the disc, which no human eye until then had ever seen? It was now their turn to impose some limit on that Selenographic science, which had reconstructed the lunar world as Cuvier did the skeleton of a fossil, and say, "The moon was this, a habitable world, inhabited before the earth! The moon is that, a world uninhabitable, and now uninhabited."
To celebrate the return of its most illustrious member and two companions, the Gun Club decided upon giving a banquet, but a banquet worthy of the conquerors, worthy of the American people, and under such conditions that all the inhabitants of the Union could directly take part in it.
All the head lines of railroads in the State were joined by flying rails; and on all the platforms, lined with the same flags, and decorated with the same ornaments, were tables laid and all served alike. At certain hours, successively calculated, marked by electric clocks which beat the seconds at the same time, the population were invited to take their place at the banquet tables. For four days, from the 5th to the 9th of January, the trains were stopped as they are on Sundays on the railways of the United States, and every road was open. One engine only at full speed, drawing a triumphal carriage, had the right of travelling for those four days on the railroads of the United States.
The engine was manned by a driver and a stoker, and bore, by special favour, the Hon. J.T. Maston, Secretary of the Gun Club. The carriage was reserved for President Barbicane, Colonel Nicholl, and Michel Ardan. At the whistle of the driver, amid the hurrahs, and all the admiring vociferactions of the American language, the train left the platform of Baltimore. It travelled at a speed of 160 miles in the hour. But what was this speed compared with that which had carried the three heroes from the mouth of the Columbiad?
Thus they sped from one town to the other, finding whole populations at table on their road, saluting them with the same acclamations, lavishing the same bravos! They travelled in this way through the east of the Union, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire; the north and the west by New York, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin; returning to the south by Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana; they went to the south-east by Alabama and Florida, going up by Georgia and the Carolinas, visiting the centre by Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and Indiana, and, after quitting the Washington station, re-entered Baltimore, where for four days one would thought that the United States of America were seated at one immense banquet, saluting them simultaneously with the same hurrahs! The apotheosis was worthy of these three heroes whom fable would have placed in the rank of demi-gods.
And now will this attempt, unprecedented in the annals of travels, lead to any practical result? Will direct communication with the moon ever be established? Will they ever lay the foundation of a travelling service through the solar world? Will they go from one planet to another, from Jupiter to Mercury, and after awhile from one star to another, from the Polar to Sirius? Will this means of locomotion allow us to visit those suns which swarm the firmament?
To such questions no answer can be given. But knowing the bold ingenuity of the Anglo-Saxon race, no one would be astonished if the Americans seek to make some use of President Barbicane's attempt.
Thus, some time after the return of the travellers, the public received with marked favour the announcement of a company, limited, with a capital of a hundred million of dollars, divided into a hundred thousand shares of a thousand dollars each, under the name of the "National Company of Interstellary Communication." President, Barbicane; Vice-president, Captain Nicholl; Secretary, J.T. Maston; Director of Movements, Michel Ardan.
And as it is part of the American temperament to foresee everything in business, even failure, the Honourable Harry Trolloppe, judge commissioner, and Francis Drayton, magistrate, were nominated beforehand!